Charles L. Mee's "True Love" opens with a radio talk show guest's thoughts on love: "I guess you'd have to say that the Greeks pretty much anticipated everything Western folks have thought and felt for 25 centuries.
"Fundamentally," he continues, "what the Greeks thought was that love is not just a sentiment but is actually the physical principle of the universe itself, the very stuff that unifies the universe, you know, binds the universe together."
In the Chameleon Theatre production of "True Love," love and lust, in all their twisted forms, both bind people together and rip them apart, leaving them pining, confused, sometimes hopeful, sometimes near insanity.
"It's about lust untempered, and lust combined with love, and what happens when you don't temper your urges," said director Barbe Marshall.
The play is a modern reworking of Euripides' "Hippolytus." In the ancient Greek tragedy, Aphrodite takes revenge on Hippolytus for his vow of chastity by inspiring his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him.
"Just about every generation decides to do a version of this," Marshall said. Mee's version radically reconstructs the tragedy in an edgy, provocative and sometimes disjointed and disturbing collage of music and found text, from Leo Buscaglia to Simone De Beauvoir. The play also incorporates monologues about complex fetishes and shocking abuse, violin and banjo solos, and even a strip-tease to Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
The play opens in a Burnsville trailer park, a "dusty, rusty, broken-down place where everyone is waiting for salvation," said Marshall. A rather uptight librarian character sorts her recycling while she talks on a cell phone, while desperately attempting to define love to a radio host. A transvestite beautician named Red, who does people's hair in beer can curlers, offers advice about sex and love, continually trying to convince the ladies that not all men are bad news. The Hippolytus character, a young man named Edward, decides that he wants to focus on things other than sex -- running, learning about business, practicing jujitsu. That is, until his dad's girlfriend (the Phaedra character) Polly comes on to him.
"It's got a contemporary, quirky feel," said Marshall. "These people are just nuts."
"Parental advisory to the max, but it's amazing and beautiful," said Amelia Mohn, 18, of Bloomington, who plays Alicia, the young guitar-playing Aphrodite figure, who sings a melancholy version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
"I like that it's kind of obscene, and the gritty stuff and the sad stuff," she said. "It's very smart."
"I love this play in an election year because I find it really comforting," said Marshall. "When politicians are talking about how we're all morally corrupt and people are doing terrible things to each other and that it's the fault of the other party ... People have been behaving badly since there were people. This is one of the very first plays written, and it's about a guy sleeping with his stepmom.
"It's very Jerry Springer," she said. "Usually, when you start talking about Greek tragedy, normally people will put it on a pedestal. It's a really gritty ... fun, quirky collage piece."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Minneapolis freelance writer.