C.S. Lewis first got the idea of rewriting the myth of Cupid and Psyche while he was an undergraduate. Lewis clung to the idea, and 35 years later he wrote Till We Have Faces. This weekend, Mustard Seed Theatre in Clayton will present the world premiere of artistic director Deanna Jent's stage adaptation of the book.
The story is told from the perspective of Psyche's ugly sister, Arual. In the course of the play, Arual becomes afraid that Psyche has married a monster and urges her sister to look at her husband. Psyche does, even though Cupid has expressly forbidden her to do so. Cupid banishes Psyche for disobeying him, and Arual must live with the knowledge that she has caused her sister's banishment. Years of self-examination follow, and during them Arual learns about herself and the secret of true beauty.
Much like Lewis, who wanted to retell the story for years, Jent had wanted to create a stage adaptation of Till We Have Faces since she was in college.
“I first encountered it in grad school,” Jent said. “It was one of those experiences where I didn't just love it, I wanted to see it on the stage.”
Jent had to get permission from the Lewis estate in order to write the play.
“I contacted Douglas Gresham to get permission to write the stage adaptation,” Jent said. “I sent them the first act, which they approved along with their suggestions. And then the second act. It went back and forth. It was a process that took place over several years.”
Gresham is a British biographer and film producer. He also is Lewis' stepson and the person responsible for all of Lewis' work. Gresham himself was depicted as a child on the Mustard Seed stage .
Jent discovered Lewis' work through The Chronicles of Narnia. While adapting literature to the stage is not foreign to her, it is rare.
“Adaptation is not something I do a lot of, but it's something I enjoy doing—the joy of translating, of making it into a theater work,” Jent said. “It's challenging and exciting.”
Adapting Till We Have Faces presented particular challenges for Jent. “Taking a complex story and putting it in a non-complicated form on stage is challenging—keeping the audience engaged,” Jent said. “Now, how do we keep (the story) clear?”
Till We Have Faces is the final show of the theater's fourth season, and Jent said she is pleased with how the season has progressed.
“I've been really pleased,” Jent said. “The Chosen won the best ensemble award at the Keven Kline awards, presented for excellence in St. Louis theater. “To me, that says we're doing things right. That was a highlight for me. All of our shows were really compelling, and they led us to great discussions with the audience. We keep learning and will continue learning.”WHAT C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces, adapted for the stage by Deanna Jent WHEN 8 p.m. Friday, world premiere; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays thereafter through May 1. Shows for Friday through Sunday this week are sold out, the theater's website states. WHERE Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. in Clayton
TICKETS To purchase tickets or make reservations, go to the Mustard Seed Theatre website or call 314-719-8060.