‘Metamorphoses’ at Constellation Theatre Company by Amanda Gunther

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Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, Constellation Theatre Company’s phenomenal production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses is a gift from the gods. It blends aspects of storytelling and Ovid’s Tales together to create a sensational aesthetically titillating performance that will keep you on the edge of your seat in wonder and awe. With live music by Helen Hayes Award winner Tom Teasley this show molds life into ancient stories, twisting them with a modern hand, bending them with imaginative quirks, and sends audiences plunging to the depths of their minds to reckon with the Gods.

Sea Battle: Jade Wheeler, Jefferson Farber, Michael Kevin Darnall, and Ashley Ivey. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Stories inside of stories inside of stories; layers of intricately woven webs unfurl in this masterpiece as it glides along the surface of reality and mythology like oil setting precariously atop water. Set and Lighting Designer A.J. Guban allows the strong themes of rebirth, redemption, and revelation to be fulfilled in a symbolic and ritualistic manner with his creation of a three foot deep trapezoid shaped pool containing over 5,000 gallons of water. The walls are accordion pleated and painted in hues of blue with wisps of white splattered about to further enhance the focus of the water. This scenic design gives the play space the feeling of an ancient Greek bathhouse.

Guban’s Lighting design captures bodies in motion, using many side boom rigs to highlight the subtle movements of characters and of the water itself. These breathtaking designs capture picturesque moments of emotions that are radiating from the actors like ripples in the water from a huge splash. Each moment lived on the stage in the water and around it is highlighted by one of Guban’s unique designs giving each individual breath meaning and purpose.

The aesthetic enticement does not end with the astonishing pool and the wondrous lighting. Costume Designer Kendra Rai has risen to the challenge of outfitting Gods and mythical creatures to the audience’s sheer visual delight. There are traffic light dresses for three narrative figures; each crisscrossing the women’s bodies in different manner to reveal varying levels of sensuality and sexuality to the onlookers. Bacchus has a skirt made entirely of grape vines with fresh bunches of grapes still attached, and Eros has huge white half-heart shaped wings befitting for the God of love. Rai accomplishes more than fifty different looks for these ten actors with stunning ensembles for Poseidon, draped in watery teals and blues, and flowing whites for Aphrodite; a dress so beautiful that it is almost painful to look upon it. Rai’s designs truly awaken a mythological spirit to this production; allowing these actors to transform into the Gods and creatures they represent, leaving no decadent corner unturned, no visual detail unperfected.

Director Allison Arkell Stockman is the master behind this stunning production. Stockman’s vision of modern ideas mingled with ancient myth does a superior justice to Zimmerman’s work; leaving the audience to want for nothing. Her casting is divine – each of the actors accomplishing more than one role in a deeply profound manner while still providing exhilarating entertainment. She utilizes the heightened sense of physicality to have her characters portray morals and key factors of stories, adding a level of depth and understanding to the text. Combined with the vibrant original score – provided by Tom Teasley – Metamorphoses is a sensational ‘Must See’ production.

Alcyone (Katie Atkinson) sleeping. Photo by Scott Suchman.

These actors face many challenges and go far above and beyond the expectations of simply translating Greek mythology to the masses. Passion is a recurring theme throughout the show and several of the actors tackle it with a tenacious ferocity – igniting sparks between them enough to set the pool on fire. Ceyx (Michal Kevin Darnall) and Alcyone (Katie Atkinson) let the floodgates of fiery love flow between them, embracing and kissing, caressing and stroking one another with such a strong physical entanglement that you can almost feel their love seeping out across the audience. We see a similar yet vastly different physical portrayal of passion between Cinyras (Matthew Pauli) and Myrrha (Megan Dominy). Pauli and Dominy engage frantically in carnal lust; their strong motions enhanced by their position in the pool, highlighted by the subdued yellow glow around their reflections; sending shivers of forbidden wanton pleasures across the surface of the water. This moment between Dominy and Pauli is like a grotesque train wreck – gruesome in nature but so horribly fascinating that you cannot help but watch.

Hermes and Eurydice: Katie Atkinson, Jefferson Farber, and Jade Wheeler. Actors in Black Shade Bags: Lisa Lias, Ashley Ivey, and Misty Demory. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Physicality is a strong player amongst the actors as they often rely on it to truly portray their message or express their emotions. Every single actor finds this to be a strong suite – using their bodies as vessels for Zimmerman’s text – moving with fluidity and grace as if guided by the invisible strings of feelings and raw existence. Darnall as Ceyx has a horrific physical struggle against the sea, splashing in desperation not to drown. Psyche (Jade Wheeler) presents a distressed struggle in the water as a representation of the struggles of her love to Eros. There is a moment of sheer terror between Aphrodite (Misty Demory) and Myrrah (Megan Dominy) as they stand on the precipice of indecision. The pair devolve into a sordid scene with Dominy split in twain by her shame and her lustful desires; each echoed thunderously in her voice while Demory slinks behind her with seductive actions, kissing, licking, caressing; her body exuding sinful sexuality like no other.

Water being a key component to this show enables a personification of the elements to bring a new level of performance to this production. There are moments when the River Styx comes to life to ensnare itself as a veil of death around Eurydice (Jade Wheeler) and when the sea rages in a storm it swells up against Ceyx (Darnall) to drown him. These moments entail actors moving with a fierce musical rhythm – sometimes slow and enticing, other times violent and jarring. The same occurs in the personification of states of being, like Hunger (Lisa Lias) who creeps about the stage in a cadaverous manner, latching onto the back of Erysichthon (Pauli) with a bone shattering grip. Sleep (Ashley Ivey) has a similar appearance, rolling about on the stage in a blue snuggie, yawning and snoring as a human entity. And then there is Apollo (Keith E. Irby) singing opera to his son Phaeton (Jefferson Faber) – the spoiled little rich bitch on a pool float.

There are too many fabulous and outstanding performances and scenes to mention or I’d give the entire show away. You must see it for yourself and if you see no other show in DC this month, this is the one.  Metamorphoses will soon fade away just like the myths of yore – and you will forever roll your stone uphill if you miss the Constellation Theatre Company’s sensational production.Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.Metamorphoses plays through June 3, 2012 at Constellation Theatre Company at Source – 1835 14th Street NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, call (800) 494-8497, or purchase them online.More information here.

1 COMMENT

  1. Amanda:

    I witnessed the show over the weekend. It was because of your review that encouraged me to attend. Your review is exquisite. Keep up your great work.

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