I was slightly apprehensive about two things going into “Metamorphoses” at Arena Stage: 1.Would the pool be a distraction or a gimmick? And 2.Would I have to be up on my ancient Roman mythology in order to “get it?”
Happily the answers were “no” and “no.” The pool holding 30,000 lbs of water in the Fichlander Stage (in the round) is a beautiful, scary, sexy and crucial member of the cast. It isn’t a prop, it’s a living thing with which the actors share space.
Playwright and director, Mary Zimmerman has put together a series of vignettes, based on the tales of Ovid. Some seem familiar from high school lesson–like the brief, wordless and hilarious tale of Narcissus, who sees his reflection and becomes so enamored with himself that he cannot move. Others are set in modern times, like Phaeton (versatile Doug Hara, who plays Eros in the nude later in the show) who talks to his therapist while gently bobbing on a yellow inflatable “float”, complaining of Daddy issues he has with his father, Apollo.
There are moments of poignancy and some tragic turns (to paraphrase one of the actors, “These stories hardly ever have happy endings”) but it’s the deft comedic touches that kept me smiling and occasionally chuckling. Zimmerman’s script is anything but heavy handed, and her cast, many of whom have been with her for years, is game at all times. Their timing is impeccable, not only in the delivery of the lines, but in the critical choreography which requires the actors to navigate the water with no room for error.
No one under 45 will remember the silly old TV show, “Love, American Style,” but I loved it at my very young age, and was reminded of some similarities. The TV show would feature several short stories within each weekly hour—the vignettes only had the theme of “love” in common, otherwise they might be set in any time or place. They followed the mantra of record executives: “Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus.”
Metamorphoses, similarly, is paced with segments that hit the ground running, make their point and end either elegantly or with a kind of punch line. Each leaving a mark in a short span of time, each adhering to the theme of “change.” I’m quite sure Ms. Zimmerman never thought of such a comparison, but I mean it as a compliment–to move someone to laughter or tears in a matter of minutes, one story after the next, is a rare skill and a high achievement.
It’s the most fun you’ll have at the theatre this year.
Metamorphoses continues at Arena Stage through March 17th. For tickets and info, visit: http://www.ArenaStage.org