Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
Also see Eddie's review of Vietgone
As any mythology should, this one begins with a tale of creation, with a scientist (Veronica Renner) scholastically lecturing to us that in the beginning "there was chaos" where "there was neither reason nor order." As scaly headed fish and feather-crowned birds appear in and around the water, we are told that the gods created "a paradise, except something was lacking: words." And thus, "man an was born. He was born that he might ... talk." Thankfully, one of this progenitor's eventual offspring, Ovid, used those words to create the wonderful, ancient stories Mary Zimmerman adapted, which now stream together seamlessly through the astute, inventive, and clever direction of Giulio Cesare Perrone–stories related both dreamlike and nightmarish as well as with tongue often fully in cheek.
As three laundresses work at the water's edge, one asks another, "What would you do with all the money in the world?" Her answer leads to a story about a rich king, Midas, who appears before us bragging of his $100 billion net worth while hungering for much more. After Midas (Max Mahle) gives refuge to a stumbling, drunken stranger named Silenus, Silenus' heavenly pal Bacchus (Jackson Kienitz) extends to Midas any wish he so desires. We all know where this is going as the received golden touch leads to everything Midas touches turning to 24-caret, including his playful daughter. Midas heads in dismay to the end of the world to wash away the golden plague in a pool reflecting the night sky's stars (so advised by Bacchus). As wave after wave of such stories washes onto the stage, welcome and unwelcome changes continue to occur whenever kings and queens as well as gods and goddesses enter the watery domain.
A youthful King Ceyx showing off his muscled chest (Connor Alhart) leaves his equally beautiful and adoring bride, Alcyone (Gabriella Goldstein) to go on an ill-fated, sea journey–one in which his rowing sailors cannot out-maneuver an irritated Poseidon. Perrone employs his set design and direction skills to create a turbulent storm at sea, where a suspended sail–with the help of the ensemble–furls, flaps, falls, and finally enfolds the doomed Ceyx. Accompanied by an array of pounding and beating sound effects, this tale of a forlorn wife who searches incessantly with candle for her husband's body ends with the two receiving a god's blessing to reunite as graceful birds flying over a calm sea (and thus establishing what we now know each December as the seven halcyon days of calm weather when these sea birds nest).
As the pool's waves continue to ripple, stories include those about an egoistic Narcissus (Katherine Hamilton) who is frozen at water's edge in his own self-love, and about a forbidden, erotic love affair between a cursed and thus aroused daughter, Princess Myrrha (Olga Molina), and her clueless, blindfolded father, King Cinyras (Drew Paton). Their body-lifting, water-descending lovemaking is the result of naughty Aphrodite's doing (a devilish Wynne Chan).
Much purer love occurs between blind Eros (Katherine Hamilton) and his to-be soulmate Psyche (Wynne Chan), and between a skipping, jolly wood nymph, Pomona (Gabriella Goldstein), and a multi-disguised, wooing with banjo Vertumnus (Jackson Kienitz)–two stories that actually end happily. On the other hand, there is the gruesome-ending story of how a crawling, growling monster called Hunger (Olga Molina) latches onto the back of a foolish destroyer of nature, Erysichthon (Drew Paton), sending him into an eating frenzy as he sells his own mother for another morsel before finally serving up his own foot as his last, self-devouring meal.
All cast members alternate their mythical roles to become narrators of the stories unfolding before us, producers of the many clever sound effects, and even musicians and singers of the original score and songs written for this production by Wynne Chan and Veronica Renner. The instruments employed include everything from flute and guitar to string harp and accordion and include more unusual instruments like the kalimba, beatbox and glockenspiel. As cast members time and again appear dry and then exit soaked to the skin, they don many whimsical, flowing, and exotic costumes designed by Patricia Billelo and otherworldly paper mach masks created by Annie Hallatt.
Amidst the stories of lost love, greed, and ill-fated desires is one where comedy reigns with a modern touch. A bikini-clad, dark glasses-wearing, sun-loving Phaeton (a loud-mouthed, obnoxiously whining Katherine Hamilton) reclines in the pool on a yellow float and unloads a host of woes against daddy Apollo (an aria-singing, sunray-crowned Wynne Chan). Listening to her whines is a deck-side, note-taking therapist who is wont to lecture Phaeton and then us with psychiatric gobbledygook about the difference between dream and myth.
One small irritant that occurred several times the night I attended was that lines were too often lost when spoken too softly by one of the actors, something that should not happen in a setting as intimate at the Pear Theatre. Hopefully, this will be corrected as the run continues.
In all these watery plots from ancient tales, the cast brings a modern sense and a reminder that change is the one constant present in all our individual worlds. The zealous and silly, sensitive and sensual, brassy and bold ways these actors portray their human and heavenly selves are further enhanced by director Perrone's decision to ignore, in many cases, the assigned gender of the original characters, with love stories at times including intimate encounters between two actors of the same sex. That along with many other director and creative team choices help make this modern retelling of millennial-old myths a thoroughly enjoyable undertaking by Pear Theatre and Dragon Productions.
Metamorphoses runs through April 10, 2022, in joint production by Pear Theatre and Dragon Productions at the Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida, Mountain View CA. For tickets, please visit www.thepear.org or www.dragonproductions.net or leave a detailed message at 650-254-1148.