You don't need to know a thing about Greek mythology to understand Metamorphoses, the new play that just opened at Second Stage. What you do need to know is how creative, clever, and moving the show is, and that, in adapting Ovid's Metamorphoses for the stage, director Mary Zimmerman has created a work of stunning beauty and emotion that simply should not be missed.
Zimmerman has done much more than merely present a handful of myths onstage. She has found the inner soul of each myth and presented each one in a unique way, but in a manner that doesn't betray a powerful sense of oral tradition. With the use of only a few mostly simplistic props, Daniel Ostling's set, with its primary feature of an enormous pool of water, Mara Blumenfeld's costumes, and TJ Gerckens's lighting, Zimmerman creates a number of individual worlds that all appear familiar, yet remain different from our own, and each other.
Whether the myths are presented in a modern way or in a more traditional fashion, Zimmerman makes no missteps. For example, Phaeton, the son of Apollo the Sun God, describes the troubles he experienced driving his father's "car," (the sun itself), to his therapist. The story of Orpheus's ill-fated trip to the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, is told twice - once in the classic style, and once using the words of Rainer Maria Rilke's poetic interpretation of the events. The tale of King Midas, who turned everything he touched to gold, is updated without losing a drop of its emotional poignancy or meaning.
Some of the stories are told individually and some are connected with various thematic frameworks. Sometimes, one story may be told inside another. Regardless of the specific methods of telling the stories, from the first moments of the play, when a group of men and women pass the stories throughout the ages, to the final, beautiful moment of the perhaps surprising coda to the piece, the stories are dramatic, humorous, and quite frequently riveting.
To tell all these stories, Zimmerman has assembled a cast of ten actors, each of whom plays multiple roles and is given numerous chances to shine. Anjali Bhimani, Raymond Fox, Kyle Hall, Doug Hara, Felicity Jones, Chris Kipiniak, Louise Lamson, Erik Lochtefeld, Heidi Stillman, and Lisa Tejero all appear young and energetic, and each makes his or her own significant impact on the show. The cast is like a finely oiled machine in which no one mechanism outperforms another; each of the actors has a very important hand in making Metamorphoses work.
While Zimmerman has worked very hard to make sure that the play can be understood by anyone, regardless of their age or familiarity with the original Ovid, it must be mentioned that there is some nudity toward the end of the play that may disrupt some childrens' attention spans. Also, because the pool of water is utilized frequently during the show in many varied capacities, those sitting in the front row can expect to get at least a little wet. Thankfully, the theatre provides towels before the show.
The stories that endure are the ones that touch something inside of us beyond the capacity of time to erase. The stories of Ovid and the whole of Greek mythology itself are this universal, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Metamorphoses has a vital, enduring quality of its own. Zimmerman and her cast have created a powerful, timely, and timeless piece of theatre that - if it does not endure for a thousand years to come - should be experienced now while it still can.
2econd Stage Theatre