Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Seascape, King of the Yees and Late Company and Jeanie's review of Sex with Strangers

Rodney Gardiner, Steven Epp, Alex Moggridge,
Lisa Tejero, and Benjamin T. Ismail

Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
We humans tell each other stories for many reasons. To entertain each other, to reveal ourselves to each other, to teach each other, comfort each other, warn each other—or simply to attempt to make some kind of sense of what can feel like a chaotic, meaningless existence. All those motives are on display in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's production of Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, an adaptation of Ovid's epic mytho-historic poem, also directed by Zimmerman. Many of the stories told here—and the characters that populate them—are deeply woven into our culture, having become memes, clichés, terminologies: the Midas touch, narcissism, psyche, eroticism. Others—Baucis and Philemon, Alcyone and Ceyx, Cinyras and Myrrha—are more obscure, but no less uplifting, moving, or tragic.

After debuting in Chicago in 1998, Metamorphoses was produced in Berkeley back at the turn of the millennium and eventually made its way to New York's Second Stage Theatre 2001, where I first encountered it before it moved on to a successful run on Broadway the following year, and later to productions in many other cities. What I found striking about the play back in 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11—when coming together to share stories of mystery and wonder represented a sort of healing—is the same thing I found striking about this new production. Though the stories are ancient, many of them have tremendous resonance with challenges and terrors we face today. It's impossible not to witness the tale of Erysichthon, who is cursed by Ceres with an insatiable hunger, and not be reminded of the horrors of addiction. As written by Zimmerman, King Midas is not unlike any number of today's billionaires—never satisfied, always seeking more and more wealth without a moment's thought to the downfalls of greed or the needs of others. When we hear Midas describe himself as "a self-made man," and then witness his self-mythologizing, clearly making up stories as he goes along about his brilliance and wisdom, it puts one in mind of another man with a gold obsession (including his hair and skin) and a penchant for mendacious self-aggrandizement. And anyone who has ever felt an unwanted or culturally taboo sexual desire may relate to Myrrha (cursed with a lust for her own father) when she cries "Oh gods, I pray you—change me!"

It is this mix of ancient and contemporary—both in language and thematic resonance—that makes Metamorphoses so engaging and powerful. The production is also a mix of classic and contemporary—from the bold set design (by Daniel Ostling) that is part modern and part rococo, to the costumes that mix styles of ancient Greece, Edwardian splendor, and modern elegance with a dash of theatrical flair thrown in.

The cast throw themselves with abandon into their roles. Steven Epp's Erysichthon exhibits hunger as a violent, unquenchable desire that is both hysterical and tragic. Likewise, Louise Lamson's portrayal of Alcyone, whose husband is lost at sea, is heartrending.

"The gods are not altogether unkind," one character intones, reminding us that even among the mostly tragic consequences of humanity's hubris and the gods' interference, there are still moments of loveliness and redemption—as when we come together in an ad hoc assembly in the darkness of a theater to share the comfort of stories.

Metamorphoses, through March 10, 2019, in the Peet's Theatre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA. Shows are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., and 2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Additional matinees have been scheduled Thursday, February 7 and Thursday, March 7 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $40-$115, with discounts available for students, seniors, and groups. Tickets are available online at, or by calling the box office at 510-647-2949.