Ovid's book, written in about the year 8, is in essence an encyclopedia of Greek and Roman mythology. From it, Mary Zimmerman has chosen some of the well-known stories (King Midas, Orpheus and Eurydicein both Ovid's version and one based on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke), some moderately well-known ones (Phaeton, Baucis and Philemon, and Eros and Psychewhich actually is not in Ovid), and then some obscurities: Ever heard of Myrrha, Erysichthon, Pomona and Vertumnus, or Alcyone and Ceyx?
I've been searching for some common theme to account for her choices, but I've given up. I think she just found them all interesting and dramatizable, and she was right. Many of the myths are presented in Reader's Theater style, with narrators telling most of the story while the characters act out the events almost in pantomime, with only a few lines of their own. The one fun exception is Phaeton's story, which is told as a modern-day therapy session between Phaeton and his psychoanalyst. Phaeton is already dead when the session takes place, but his myth lives on, so what's the problem?
This production, directed by Joe Alberti, works on just about every level. There are two unusual, maybe even unique, aspects to it. First, the cast is all female. After the first small shock of seeing King Midas and Zeus played by women, it all seems perfectly natural. I don't think this is meant to be any kind of "statement." It's more a matter of expediency. The director says in his notes that a lot more female student actors auditioned than males, so he decided to go with an all-female cast, and it works.
Second, a lot of the action takes place behind a wall-sized translucent screen that is back-lit, so that all we see of the actors when they are behind the screen are their shadows, as in the puppet plays of ancient times. This turns out to be a brilliant way to stage some of the actions and transformations that Metamorphoses requires: an incest scene, chopping down a tree, people turning into trees, a woman dissolving into water, a hut turning into a mansion, a visit to the underworld, etc. Most productions of this play feature a large pool of water on the stage. Here, there is only a small pool, and no one gets wet. Congratulations to Joe Alberti, Gordon Kennedy (scenic design) and Michael Hidalgo (lighting design) for conceiving this back-lit screen idea and pulling it off.
This is an ensemble piece, with each of the sixteen actors playing several roles. I can't name them all, and don't think it fair to single out any individualseveryone is very good. Casey Mraz does a fine job with the music, which sounds appropriate to the era. Likewise the Greco-Roman costumes by Sarah Wyman.
If you don't know much about Greek mythology, I would recommend this play. If you think you already know a lot about Greek mythology, I would recommend this play even more.
Metamorphoses, a play by Mary Zimmerman based on the myths of Ovid, is being presented by the University of New Mexico Department of Theatre and Dance in the Experimental Theatre (in the UNM Center for the Arts, on Central Avenue in Albuquerque) through October 7, 2012. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. Tickets at UNM ticket offices, 505-925-5858, or unmtickets.com.