Watching Metamorphoses is a sensory experience. Mary Zimmerman’s play retells ancient myths with intelligence and invention, and that alone makes it memorable. But what you’ll remember most about the show is its use of water, and the way you’ll feel immersed in it, even if you don’t get a drop on you. (And don’t let the threat of a soaking scare you away – I was in the fifth row and didn’t get splashed.)
The floor of the Arden Theatre’s F. Otto Haas Stage is dominated by a huge, shallow pool that the play’s ten cast members use in almost every possible way: they are born in it, they die in it, they frolic in it, they sleep in it, they make love in it. And they use it to dramatize the Roman poet Ovid’s retelling of myths and legends, each tale told boldly. We see King Ceyx setting sail and his ship being destroyed by a storm – which is dramatized by the god Poseidon (wearing a Mexican wrestling mask) jumping into the pool and wrestling Ceyx into submission. His bride Alcyone, overcome with grief, descends into the water and transforms into a seabird. Later we see Narcissus spellbound by his own reflection in the pool, Phaeton lounging on an inflatable raft, and the god Zeus and his son Hermes joining humans in a water-bound feast.
Zimmerman’s script isn’t perfect: it’s too cutesy at times, too dense at others. The choppy, non-linear storytelling can make it hard to follow. And a few of its tales – a lumbering alternate version of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth and a nauseating, drawn-out take on Myrrha’s incestuous passion for her father – stop the show in its tracks. But in the end Metamorphoses is a stirring compendium on tales of loss, loneliness, grief, redemption and love. As the characters transform themselves, we see the actors transform too, but only through the power of suggestion. Transformations aren’t just for the gods, Zimmerman suggests – they are for mortals too. And that’s an inspiring message that the play emphasizes repeatedly.
Director Doug Hara, a cast member of the original Broadway production, creates an evocative atmosphere with a consistent and pervasive design style. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s scenic design, set against a cloud-filled backdrop, takes us to a dreamlike world where anything seems possible. Olivera Gajic’s sensual, diaphanous costumes show off the actors to their best advantage, and Christopher Colucci’s synthesized string section, and Thom Weaver’s haunting lighting set the mood perfectly.
The ten actors in Hara’s cast are all strong, each playing multiple roles and delineating their characters clearly. Standouts include Krista Apple-Hodge, radiant and regal as Aphrodite; Christopher Patrick Mullen, who speaks the greedy King Midas’ lines with a witty, Donald Trump-like cadence; Leigha Kato, rambunctious as Midas’ daughter and tortured as Myrrha; Alex Keiper, despondent as Alcyone and playful as the nymph Pomona; and Brandon Pierce, who is timid as Pomona’s suitor and then suitably sexy as Eros, the god of love.
Let the waters wash over you, and let Hara’s and The Arden Theatre Company’s touching production of Metamorphoses move you.
Running Time: One hour and forty minute, with no intermission.
Metamorphoses plays through November 1, 2015 in the Berlind Theatre Auditorium at the Arden Theatre Company – 40 North Second Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 922-1122, or purchase them online.