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Metamorphoses At Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
February 27, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

The cast of Metamorphoses Ashleigh Lathrop, Lisa Tejero, Raymond Fox,  Doug Hara, Chris Kipiniak, Tempe Thomas, Lauren Orkus,  Geoff Packard and Louise Lamson -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

The cast of Metamorphoses Ashleigh Lathrop, Lisa Tejero, Raymond Fox, Doug Hara, Chris Kipiniak, Tempe Thomas, Lauren Orkus, Geoff Packard and Louise Lamson – Photo by Teresa Wood.

At Arena Stage’s Mead Center, Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses is presented on a stage transformed by a giant central pool.  Ornamented by a single crystal chandelier, the shallow pool is surrounded by wooden decking, which the actors walk, run, skip, and crawl on when not actually in the water, faux swimming, having sex or merely drowning.  By my count there are eleven separate stories from David Slavitt’s translation of Ovid’s masterpiece written in 8 A.D., by the Latin poet describing the history of the world.  A weighty proposition with the only constant being change.

Most of the vignettes here are the familiar cautionary tales of greed, lust, incest…oh let’s just say the seven deadly sins and call it a day.  The actors play multiple parts in a whirlwind of clever costume changes that serve to clarify segues to the next story.  This proves helpful since the program makes no attempt to list the multiple roles each actor portrays, nor the individual vignettes.

There’s a lot to be said for brevity when it comes to complex themes of love and loss and in these stories, the objective is clear.  In each piece we meet the hapless cast of characters and learn of the hot mess they’ve gotten themselves into, usually expressed by the muse or the god positioned slightly off stage.  The frailties and passions of mere mortals are highlighted, while the gods, busy spewing their edicts and curses, are fodder for ridicule.  Drum roll, please.  Et voila!  The moral of the story is revealed for all time, sometimes after a vision quest.

The play begins with Zeus explaining the creation of the world – birds, fish, game, paradise – brief pause – and man was born.  The choice of Midas as the opening myth, is a good one, since pretty much everyone knows the tale of the greedy king who wished everything he touched turn to gold.

Chris Kipiniak and Ashleigh Lathrop -  Photo credit Teresa Wood

Chris Kipiniak and Ashleigh Lathrop – Photo credit Teresa Wood

Ashleigh Lathrop plays his devoted daughter.  The sylphlike Lathrop, all angles one moment all undulating curves as Myrrha in another tale, is captivating.   When Midas explains his desire for gold, “It’s all for the family,” he insists, Bacchus sends his emissary in a leopard loincloth, a bottle of wine secured in a paper bag.  “What is the secret to eternal life?” Midas inquires.  When the drunken Selinus, pointing to his head, replies, “It’s here!” – it’s a no brainer.

But Midas, not one for subtleties, demands his wish be granted and Bacchus complies.  In a magnificent scene his daughter, clad in a white lace dress runs through the water to her father, wrapping her legs around his waist.  As she becomes the solid gold he wished for, she is bathed in a golden beam of light.

Lighting Designer T. J. Gerckens and Set Designer Daniel Ostling have crucial tasks since there are no set changes and no curtains to draw in this theater-in-the-round, or in this case, rectangular.  Along with Sound Designer Andre Pluess, there is a great deal of ambiance and suggestion necessary to support the dialogue and it is exquisitely manifested here.

Doug Hara in Metamorphoses - Photo by Teresa Wood

Doug Hara in Metamorphoses – Photo by Teresa Wood

In another of Zimmerman’s interpretations, Phaeton, son of the Sun God Apollo, floats on a raft in bright yellow swim trunks and wraparound Oakleys – a portrait of the ne’er-do-well scion asking for the keys to dad’s car.  To which Apollo responds tongue-in-cheek, “Don’t fly too high!”

In this piece an analyst sits off to the side of the pool and opines, “Myths are the earliest form of science and dreams are private myths.”  It is the most revealing moment in the play as to the dramaturg’s motivation and unfortunately we don’t hear it until the ninth story.  One wonders if the next line is not autobiographical as the analyst declares, “It is impossible to speak of enigmatic things – both privately and publicly.”  Metamorphoses shows that it is possible to speak of enigmatic things when they are brilliantly interpreted and directed by Zimmerman, passionately performed by the entire ensemble, and magnificently staged.

At Arena Stage through March 17th.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.

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