A fellow Temp Cupid approaches me, to ask me about my human, Audrey.
“What does she want?”
“She’s not looking for something serious at the moment,” I reply. “She’s focused on self-improvement, I think.”
“That sounds like my guy, Clark!”
I raise my bow defensively. Clark?! For my sweet Audrey? Over my heavenly body!
Temp Cupid is a sandbox-style immersive play in which audience members guide the romantic inclinations of six young singles. Each guest assumes the role of a Cupid – that famous marksman of love – working for a comical corporate entity that has distilled romance to both a science and a business. During the month of February, and especially around Valentine’s Day, humanity finds itself especially desperate for love, thus the need for one-night-only “temps” who can pick up the extra slack.
On this particular night, your group of temps has been assigned to a friendly gathering between several lonely hearts: Audrey, Jack, Cassie, Jo, Clark, and Tracey. As a Cupid, you are armed with not only a miniature bow, but a small array of ammunition. You can, of course, shoot your target with an arrow of attraction, but in a wonderfully devious twist, you are also equipped with arrows of repulsion. These arrows are shot from point blank range, straight at the heart. Though you are encouraged to scheme with your fellow Cupids, you cannot talk to or physically influence the humans in any way – and they cannot hear or see you. There is no intentional touch between the audience and performers.
You are matched with one character in particular, and your goal is to help that character experience one of the seven types of love – which include not only romantic or lustful attraction, but also deep friendship or care for the world at large. But you must be quick about it, as the group is leaving for a show in less than an hour. The ultimate outcome depends largely on the plans of the Cupids, and though there is no “final score,” Cupids must treat their human with care, if the night is to end on a positive note.
The central mechanic of Temp Cupid – the bow and arrow – is innovative, funny, and immensely satisfying. Though it may require a few re-explanations before the show begins, it all falls into place very quickly and creates a silly, joyous atmosphere. What makes the weapon so fun to wield is that its effects are instantaneous and often hilarious. While the quick emotional shifts aren’t always realistic, they bring to mind the Cupid of old cartoons, whose powers work quickly and potently. There is a constant struggle between sticking to your mission – which your human would probably prefer – and stirring up drama or lopsided relationships. What if one human loves someone who hates them in return? What happens if you charm someone into loving themselves? And most interestingly, what if your ideal outcome conflicts with another couple of Cupids? At one point in my performance, it was all-out war.
The performances are uniformly stellar, which is great news for a show that requires each character to be more or less equally likeable. I spent the most time with Tricia Fukuhara’s Audrey, my assigned human, who was on a relatable see-saw of trying to connect with the others and resigning herself to the couch alone. Being the only two males at the party, there was a delightful competition between Orion Schwalm’s Jack and Kristofer Buxton’s Clark. Without going into spoilers, my partner and I had decided on who I thought was best for Audrey, but another pair of Cupids had other plans – in the end, a third group stole the boy from under all of our noses! Casey Dean’s Tracey brought a great positive energy to the group. Lena Valentine and Ashley Busenlener, as Jo and Cassie were perhaps the most versatile of the bunch, and did an excellent job being pulled in every possible direction over the course of the hour. As a group, the improvisational skills on display were highly impressive, especially given that each actor had to keep track of each relationship on a moment-to-moment basis.
Temp Cupid is produced and directed by The Spectacular Disaster Factory (Give Up the Ghost), comprising wife-husband duo Kirsten Hageleit and Aaron Vanek. The show is full of little touches that enhance the sense of fun and pleasure, from alcoholic drinks before and during, to Valentine’s candy, to one of the loveliest playbills in recent memory. The direction is incredibly seamless, as it is impossible to tell how much of the show, if any, is scripted. Everything feels balanced and well-tested, as the actors took each new turn with ease and confidence.
Temp Cupid is innovative, wacky, adorable, and above all, a ton of fun. The hour goes by all too fast, and it’s easy to imagine revisiting it with a different play-style. Hageleit and Vanek have a Cupid streak themselves, creating something so easy to fall in love with.