Metamorphoses and The Seafarer

Craig Baldwin and Cast
Photo: Ric Evans
Theatregoers in Pittsburgh are currently being treated to two very different but excellent plays. The Public Theater offers Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, an adaptation of (mostly) the classic Ovid poem played in an eye-catching and compelling way in and around a pool of water. And on the City Theatre's mainstage is The Seafarer, featuring a Christmas Eve and Christmas morning glimpse into a household of Irishmen, drawn in rich characterizations by Conor McPherson.

Aptly described in the Journal of Performance and Art as building "a poetic bridge between myth and modernism by creating a hybrid of ancient Greek antiquities and modern American culture," Zimmerman holds the audience by interweaving eight mythical tales as timeless fables. Taking on many characters, the vibrant ensemble of actors seem to really enjoy performing this show. And their joy is contagious—at 90 minutes, with no intermission, it is a magical experience. As for the pool, it measures 14' by 21' and the depth of the 95-degree water is 20 inches (in the "shallow end") to 38 inches. Credit director Ted Pappas with the smooth, natural movement of the cast into and out of the water, as well as time spent swimming, treading and submerged during the playing out of the tales.

Genius set designer James Noone has created a soothing and evocative environment with the pool and surrounding deck, and his work is enhanced by superb lighting, including projections and an assortment of suspended lanterns, by Kirk Bookman and atmospheric sound by Zach Moore. Costumer Susan Tsu provides interesting (and plentiful, based on the number of times cast members leave the stage wet and re-emerge dry) costumes, including one for Eros, who, though not completely nude as in other productions, still elicits gasps.

The cast includes some performers from the local "pool," so to speak, but they all offer fresh performances. It is such a cohesive group, all on equal footing, it's only fair to name them alphabetically: J.T. Arbogast, Craig Baldwin, Ka-Ling Cheung, Tami Dixon, Darren Eliker, Daina Michelle griffith, Lara Hillier, Daniel Krell, Sipiwe Moyo, Bhavesh Patel.

Noble Shropshire
and Martin Giles

Photo: Suellen Fitzsimmons
Over on the Southside, it's a jolly holiday with James "Sharky" Harkin, his blind brother Richard, a couple of buddies and a new acquaintance, who is a devil in disguise. Do you think you've seen enough plays and movies about hard drinking, rough-talking, grizzly Irishmen? Well, don't sit this one out. The characters' past secrets and an air of other-worldliness (plus great writing) lift this story above many others.

It's Christmas eve in the shabby Baldoyle home of Richard Harkin (Noble Shropshire). Richard was recently blinded as a result of a fall into a dumpster, he loudly protests against bathing, wrestles with efficiency in the bathroom, and you can practically smell him from the last row of the theater. Oh, and he drinks. A lot. So does the hapless Ivan (Martin Giles), who practically crawls down the stairs after sleeping over (not on the floor, he says indignantly, "I slept on the rug.") after the previous night's bender. Ivan is in big trouble with his wife, who has already kicked him out for bad behavior. Sharky (Christopher Donahue) has sworn off drinking and returned home to take care of Richard. Sharky is palpably weary with emotional pain; you almost wish he would drink to relieve us all. But his sadness turns to fear when Richard's friend Nicky (who is now with Sharky's ex-girlfriend, just another bad break for Sharky) brings the mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Mark Ulrich) over for a holiday game of cards. It seems Sharky made a deal some years ago to save his hide and Mr. Lockhart is here to collect.

It's a mixed bag for accents and performances here, though in both categories Noble Shropshire sets the bar high. His cranky, grisly Richard is perfectly created. Mark Ulrich's Lockhart is frighteningly cool, chillingly so, if slightly underplayed. Christopher Donahue is sympathetic as the middle-aged, defeated Sharky; Martin Giles mines the laughs as harmless Ivan; and Sam Redford is uneven but often effective as the braggart Nicky. As a group, with Tracy Brigden's efficient direction, they bring the 2-1/2 hour play home without a dull spot, all fitting comfortably in the grubbiness of Narelle Sissons' detailed and realistic set.

Metamorphoses continues through February 15 at the O'Reilly Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit or the box office.

The Seafarer continues through February 15 at the City Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit

-- Ann Miner

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