The water drew me in. The performance kept me there. And now the indelible images flood my memory as I replay the scenes of men and women being at one with the water, floating age-old stories into the air and back again.
If you believe in theatrical magic, Metamorphoses is transfiguration – where objects, time and space dissolve in a whisper and water is used for conjuring. This is theatre that is mythic, modern, playful and wonderful.
Coming off a 16-week run at Chicago’s Lookinglass Theatre Company, Metamorphoses is now weaving its potent spell at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.
Written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, Metamorphoses was first produced by Lookinglass in 1998. Several regional mountings followed and by 2002 it opened on Broadway, earning three Tony nominations, and a Tony Award for best director.
Zimmerman brought Metamorphoses back to Lookinglass this season, reuniting her design team and many of the actors with whom she worked to create the piece. Now Arena Stage offers the chance for Washington audiences to experience Zimmerman’s visionary work, which beautifully combines elements of storytelling, physical theatre, and deceptively simple stagecraft.
Though set in ancient times, Metamorphoses has a modern quality that could be traced back to the days of Brecht and even Thornton Wilder – simple staging, minimal props, and a reliance on the audience’s imagination.
The giants of arts and letters through the centuries have looked to Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” for inspiration: Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare. Zimmerman’s adaptation only takes a half dozen or so myths, both popular and obscure. The genius of her concept is to stage the play in and around a pool of water.
The legendary tales of love and transformation find a fitting home in the four-sided pool, an ideal setting for intimate stories set in a mythic time of gods and kings. Starting with the creation of the world and the birth of man, the play leads us through a series of legendary tales, some growing from the one before, others standing alone. The storytelling is transcendent.
The Fichlander Stage now holds the largest pool ever constructed for the play and it is an impressive sight, but it serves as much more than a staging gimmick. The water also reminds us that the only constant in our human experience is change.
Metamorphoses takes on an otherworldly aura with the pool as its centerpiece. The water bends to suit the needs of the play, becoming the home of a distracted king, the seemingly endless ocean, the River Styx, or a modest garden home. The water changes in an instant – from black stillness to churning torrent and back again – a liquid metaphor at the heart of the piece.
Prepare to be mesmerized by the water, as I was. There was a moment when the pool was awash in a light of Cerulean blue and finger waves gently rippled across the water. For a moment, I felt transported along a timeless sea.
Love stories provide a lifeline throughout Metamorphoses and it is in these sections that the true power of transformation is displayed. Doomed lovers, strange marriages, incest – in each episode, human hearts are tested and often the gods intervene.
One character points out that almost none of the love stories have completely happy endings. To which the answer comes, “Wherever our soul goes, there we find our love. If we are lucky. And if we let ourselves be blind” instead of watching out for it.
While touching on the power of love and transformation, Metamorphoses does not take itself too seriously, which allows the heavier myths to provide more potency.
Moments of whimsy and childlike glee are interspersed in just the right doses – a series of ridiculous disguises for a god to fool a wood nymph, for example.
Closes March 17, 2013
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
1101 Sixth Street, SW
1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission
Tickets: $40 – $85 (subject to change)
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Set designer Daniel Ostling’s pool and cloud panels are punctuated by the subtly organic lighting design by T. J. Gerckens. Mara Blumenfeld’s costume designs allow the audience to place the characters in a time that is both ancient and modern. And the soundscape provided by designer Andre Pluess and composer Willy Schwartz effortlessly gives atmosphere to the presentation.
Like the water, Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses reminds us of the power of theatre to cleanse, renew, fulfill and ultimately transform us.
Metamorphoses, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, based on a translation by David Slavitt of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” . Featuring Raymond Fox, Doug Hara, Derek Hasenstab, Chirs Kipiniak, Louise Lamson, Ashleigh Lathrop, Lauren Orkus, Geoff Packard, Lisa Tejero, and Tempe Thomas. Creative team: Set Designer: Dan Ostling, Costume Designer: Mara Blumenfeld, Lighting Designer: T.J. Gerckens, Sound Designer: Andre Pluess, Original Music Composer: Willy Schwarz, Stage Manager Cynthia Cahill and Assistant Stage Manager Marne Anderson. Produced by Lookingglass Theatre Company . Presented by Arena Stage . Reviewed by Jeff Walker