Mary Zimmerman’s ‘Metamorphoses’ at the Arden (first review)

Transforming Ovid into a fascinating night of theater

When I am paying to go out to the theater, I do a little research to see if I might like the show. It’s not a movie. It costs more. But when I am reviewing a play, I deliberately try to learn as little as possible in advance. I want to be surprised. I want to measure the play, not on preconceived notions, but on what is presented to me on the stage. The Arden Theatre Company’s presentation of Metamorphoses delighted me with a collection of classic stories presented in a unique and very entertaining style.

A sweet cacophony of the yearnings of men and women: Krista Apple-Hodge as Psyche and Brandon Pierce as Eros. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

I thought I had an inkling of what Metamorphoses was about. Wasn’t that the title of a book by Kafka about a man who wakes up one morning to discover he’s transformed into an insect? Well, that is not this show. “Metamorphosis” is defined as a conspicuous, usually abrupt, change in an animal’s physical structure — and that’s not what it’s about either. Metamorphoses is a collection of myths and stories, originally put on paper by the poet Ovid over 2,000 years ago. It was, dare I say it, transformed into a fascinating evening of theater by Mary Zimmerman some dozen years ago, winning her and the play many Tonys.

Going through changes

When you enter the theater, you see a huge pool of water taking up most of the stage, with only a wooden path around it. That pool is where most of the action of the eight stories takes place — not around it, but in it!

Beginning with the well-known story of Midas and his golden touch, through stories about Orpheus and Eurydice; Eros and Psyche; and Aphrodite, Zeus, and other gods, demigods, and humans; we are reminded that life is about change — not just physical change, but changes in our perceptions of need and greed, love and loneliness, money and humility. Metamorphoses is a sweet cacophony of the yearnings of men and women as they try to negotiate life and death. Much of it is quite powerful as director Doug Hara guides his actors through the water as they express those needs. The water is the River Styx. It is the bedroom. It is the sea. It is a place to play and frolic. And it transforms so much in each story.

Love stories

The stories are about love in its many forms — a woman’s love for her lost husband, a man’s love that allows him to sell his very mother, a daughter’s love for her father. Many of these stories have perverse elements to them, calling love and its ramifications into question, but these ancient myths still resonate today.

Lindsay Smiling as a narrator, Sean Bradley as Orpheus, and Clare O’Malley as Eurydice. (Photo by Mark Garvin)
Lindsay Smiling as a narrator, Sean Bradley as Orpheus, and Clare O’Malley as Eurydice. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Like a book of short stories, I loved some and cared less about others, but they were all interesting to observe from my safe seat in the audience. And while many of the women were not strong actors, performances by Lindsay Smiling and Brandon Pierce were so powerful we overlook the shortcomings in some of the scenes. The haunting music (Christopher Colucci), smart lighting (Thom Weaver), and creative choreography (apparently by director Hara: no choreographer is listed) are captivating, mesmerizing.

Whether you go for the stories or the total performance, it is truly a powerful night at the theater.


For Naomi Orwin's review, click here.

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