Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Traditionally, Orpheus descends into Hades searching for Eurydice. In the Merely Players production of “Metamorphoses,” Orpheus finds his beloved at the bottom of an empty swimming pool.
The pool is real, not a stage illusion. And the dramatic effect is stunning.
“Metamorphoses” opened Friday and plays through Saturday under the bubble-canopied pool at Best Western Mountain Shadows, the motel on Main Avenue.
In today’s theatrical world, a pool, a tennis court, a used car lot or a corporate boardroom can all function as a stage. They are called found spaces, and director Mona Wood-Patterson says she has been searching for a pool and the right play for years.
With Mountain Shadows and playwright Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses,” Wood-Patterson has found a winning combination. The location physically enhances this modern retelling of ancient myths.
Based on Ovid’s tales of transformation, Zimmerman crafted a fanciful blend of old and new. The famous Roman poet was exiled by Emperor Augustus in 8 A.D. for mocking the gods. He died a decade later. It was a time of transition when the old gods were losing credibility.
Ovid’s satire cut into conventional thinking. His views of chance, change and the human condition were controversial. Still relevant today, Ovid’s themes of greed, lust, loss and pride ring true especially in Zimmerman’s imagination.
A MacArthur Foundation Fellow and professor of performance studies at Northwestern University, Zimmerman has become a force in contemporary American theater. “Metamorphoses” began as “Six Myths” in 1996 at Northwestern. Zimmerman transformed it into a larger piece and “Metamorphoses” opened at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre in 1998. It ran Off-Broadway in 2001 and moved to Broadway in 2002, when Zimmerman won a Tony Award for Best Direction. A revival is running now in Chicago.
After Ovid’s scheme, the play opens with a prologue followed by 12 short tales. The most familiar center on Orpheus, Narcissus, Pandora, Perseus and Medusa.
The ensemble consists of Marc Arbeeny, Marcelina Chavira, Theresa A. Carson, Lani Dill, Jessica Jane Hagemeister, Jacob Lavell Harris, Geoff Johnson, Anna Rose Rousseau, Sarah Syverson and Ian Thomas.
Each vignette centers on one or two mythical figures who by their own folly or the whims of the gods are transformed – into a tree, a bird, or solid gold as in the case of King Midas (wonderfully realized by Arbeeny in a yellow zoot-suit).
Most vignettes have a comic turn; some are lyrical, and a few are as dark as a watery grave. “Pandora” features Chavira as a sprightly girl who discovers a forbidden box. “Narcissus” (Ian Thomas) tells the tale of a boy in love with his own image. Harris and Syverson mime a funny bit as Perseus and Medusa with their own private Greek chorus.
The longest tale combines humor and darkness as Geoff Johnson dons many disguises to win over Syverson’s Pomona while narrating a catastrophic story of incest. The play-within-a-play, Myrrha (Anna Rose Rousseau), takes on the look of grand opera as the inner players appear in 18th-century costume.
Director Wood-Patterson presents all 12 fantastic tales in 95 swiftly moving minutes. Technical director Charles Ford has transformed the empty pool by creating a lower chamber, an upper temple and tower for the likes of Zeus, Aphrodite, et al.
Costumer JoAnn Nevils underscores the mythical base with plenty of white togas and chitons, then stretches to wigs and court dress for “Myrrha,” and updates with jeans, T-shirts and swim trunks.
When Harris plops into the hot tub in a swim suit and shades, he begins one of the funniest tales: Phaeton, son of Apollo, god of the sun, is a spoiled boy of privilege. He complains to his therapist (the savvy Carson) about his stubborn, distant father. Retelling a confrontation, Phaeton snarls, “So I said, ‘Give me the car keys, Dad.’”
In Ovid’s tale, Apollo lets Phaeton drive the chariot of the sun across the sky. Reckless, the boy steers too close to the Earth.
See “Metamorphoses” and find out how the Zimmerman-Wood-Patterson version ends. It’s a rare opportunity. Don’t miss it.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.