Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Metamorphoses
Guthrie Theater
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Hello, Dolly! and Cry It Out


In the photo: Felicity Jones Latta, Louise Lamson,
Lisa Tejero, Steven Epp, Alex Moggridge,
and Benjamin T. Ismail

Photo by Dan Norman
The eleven stories from Greek and Roman mythology that form Mary Zimmerman's exquisite play Metamorphoses all have one thing in common, as one would surmise from its title: change. In every tale, a metamorphosis, or change, occurs in one or more characters. Most of the narrative is drawn from the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses, his epic collection of the transformations among the ancient Greek and Roman gods and mortals. Zimmerman has returned to remount her work (for which she won the 2002 Tony Award as Best Director of a Play) at the Guthrie, in a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Most dramas worth their salt include some change in a character's thinking, or feeling or fortune, but these classic myths go deeper. As in biology, when we speak of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, these are not internal changes within a creature's life but complete change to the totality of the being. Here, a mortal becomes a god, a human being becomes a bird, a loved one is frozen into precious metal (though not so precious as she was in human form).

Some of these metamorphoses are sublime, such as elderly husband and wife Baucis and Philemon, neither wanting to be alone after the other dies, becoming entwined as skyward reaching trees. Others are horrific, such as a woodcutter who transgresses the god Ceres, punished with an insatiable hunger that leads him to literally devour himself. In some cases the story is given a twist of modernity, such as Phaeton sounding like a hip millennial, describing his strained relationship with his father Apollo in the context of a session with his therapist. All of them, whether uplifting or disturbing, are presented with transcendent beauty, elegantly staged by Zimmerman in and around a dark pool of water.

Much has been written about the technical challenge the Guthrie faced in order to install this pool, holding 1,500 gallons of water, into the Wurtele Thrust Stage. Truly, this was no simple feat, considering that a structure had to be built strong enough to hold the weight of the water, bearing in mind that just a restaurant (the aptly named "Sea Change") lies just below. On par with this engineering achievement is Zimmerman's brilliant use of the liquid medium to create a timelessness, a sense of purity, and a context of natural forces that will always overshadow the efforts of humans. The water is used differently in telling different stories: sometimes a sea upon which travelers face rough waves and wind; other times the place where humble mortals go to wash their laundry, then the immersive force that bathes around lovers, or a setting to seek relaxation and serenity.

The setting designed by Daniel Ostling around the pool contributes to this space, itself undergoing a metamorphosis with the telling of each new tale. An elegant crystal-spangled chandelier hangs from above; a panoramic depiction of clouds is placed at the rear, concealing a platform on which the gods can observe from above. To one side, an ornate set of giant doors, their paint somewhat weathered, offers a sense of ceremony as characters enter and exit through them. A deck of wood slats surrounds the rectangular pool, creating a simple, spare landscape. T.J. Gerckens' lighting design smartly uses illumination doubly, providing direct light and reflection from the pool's surface.

Mara Blumenfeld's costumes start with basic apparel associated with ancient Rome, such as togas, tunics, jerkins, and simple dresses cinched around the waist. Various touches, some whimsically anachronistic, identify different characters, both by their station in life and their personalities. The effect of water upon the fabric must surely have been considered, for the clinging quality of the characters' garments seems to intensify their feelings and make more urgent their desires. Willy Schwarz composed an ethereal musical score that ideally embellishes the narrative without drawing attention to itself.

Different approaches are used throughout the show in telling these stories. Some are narrated by external narrators not part of the story. Others are narrated by a leading character. One is told as a story within a story, as Vertumnus tries to woo Pomona with the story of Myrrha, and the intensely beautiful story of Eros and Psyche (the only one included that is not part of Ovid's work) is told in the form of questions and answers from two rapt onlookers.

The superb cast of ten actors are well practiced after a two-month run at Berkeley Rep, and all play multiple roles. Of the ten, four were in the original 2002 Broadway run of Metamorphoses, so they are long steeped in this work and no doubt help to rekindle the magic of Zimmerman's achievement for new audiences. Only Steven Epp is well known to Twin Cities audiences, having appeared here on numerous stages for over three decades. All display perfect timing, crisp and clear language, and unity as an ensemble. They perform with unyielding grace, especially in scenes where their interactions with the water are as key as their interactions with one another. They also manage to draw out the humor imbedded in the weighty substance of these myths. Particularly winning portrayals are provided by Benjamin T. Ismail as Vertumnus and as Eros, Felicity Jones Latta as Psyche, Steven Epp as Erysichthon, Louise Lamson as Alcyone, and both Epp as King Cinyras and Sango Tajima as Myrrha in the tale of their forbidden love. Assuredly, however, there are no less than excellent performances by anyone, in any of the scenes.

Metamorphoses is a work of sheer beauty, casting out a sense of awe in the mysteries and untapped powers of the universe, lighting the way with hope, and ending with a stunning depiction of the healing power of love. Twin Cities theatergoers should be grateful to Mary Zimmerman for bringing this masterpiece back to life, and to Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Guthrie for marshalling the resources and the heart to bring it our stages.

Metamorphoses, a co-production between The Guthrie Theater and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, through May 19, 2019, at the Guthrie Theater's Wurtele Thrust Stage, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets from $29.00 to $78.00. Seniors (65+) and full-time college students (with ID) - $3.00 - $6.00 discounts. Public rush for unsold seats 15 - 30 minutes before performance, $20.00 - $25.00, cash or check only. Gateway tickets for eligible low-income patrons, $5.00. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or visit GuthrieTheater.org.

Playwright and Director: Mary Zimmerman, based on the myths of Ovid, from the translation by David R. Slavitt; Set Design: Daniel Ostling; Costume Design: Mara Blumenfeld; Lighting Design: T.J. Gerckens; Sound Design: Andre Pluess; Original Music: Willy Schwarz; Dramaturg: Jo Holcomb; Voice and Dialect Coach: Foster Johns; Casting Consultants: McCorkle Casting, Ltd.; Stage Manager: Jason Clusman Assistant Stage Manager: Justin Hossle; Assistant Director: Natalie Novacek; Design Assistants: Ryan Connealy (lighting), Lisa Jones (costumes), Reid Rejsa (sound).

Cast: Steven Epp (Erysichthon and others), Raymond Fox (Midas and others), Rodney Gardiner (Phaeton and others), Benjamin T. Ismail (Hermes/Vertumnus and others), Louise Lamson (Alcyone and others), Felicity Jones Latta (Aphrodite and others), Alex Moggridge (Ceyx and others), Sango Tajima (Myrrha and others), Lisa Tejero (Therapist and others), Suzy Weller (Eurydice and others).


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