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Constellation Theater Company Metamorphoses

By • May 11th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Metamorphoses
Constellation Theatre Company
Source Theatre, Washington DC
Through June 3rd
1:45 without intermission
$20-$40 + fees
Reviewed May 9th, 2012

Constellation Theater Company’s Metamorphoses is flat-out brilliant, knock-your-socks-off theater, from script to setting to lights and costumes to actors who speak and move with perfection. At heart, it is about storytelling, the stories being some familiar and some not-so-familiar Greco-Roman myths, derived mostly from the Roman poet Ovid. A signal achievement of Mary Zimmerman’s script is its ability to convey the deep feeling of many of the stories while telling them in contemporary, ironic language, creating frequent moments of humor that do not detract from the stories’ emotional impact.

One can’t discuss Metamorphoses without talking about its famous pool, the central feature of the set. I admit to having had some trepidation going into the theater, wondering if the pool was going to dominate the show. Not to worry. Director Allison Arkell Stockman and her ensemble cast use the pool to tell their stories in varied ways, from a stormy ocean to a reflecting pool to the River Styx to a place of forbidden, destructive lust. The pool serves the stories, rather than overshadowing them and, as Stockman points out in her program note, reinforces the mythic themes of the play.

“Metamorphoses” translates as “transformations,” and the play’s structure echoes its title’s meaning. The actors play multiple roles, transforming rapidly from one to the other, with a multitude of costume changes that are handled flawlessly. The costumes shape the characters beautifully, changing, for example, Misty Demory from a voluptuous Aphrodite to a nerdy therapist. Demory’s therapist is mostly a comic character, spoofing psychiatry with a stream of theoretical psychobabble and then, in a quick twist, delivering a prĂ©cis of the show’s main theme. As Baucis and Philemon (Katie Atkinson and Ashley Ivey), a poor, elderly, hospitable couple, are transformed by the gods into entwined trees who will hold each other eternally, they first drop their homespun cloaks, lose their aged stoop, and stand up straight in bathing suits, marveling in one another’s youthful beauty (of their souls, perhaps?). The image is as striking as it is touching.

The production is full of striking acting moments. Atkinson, for example, goes from playing an inconsolably grieving widow to a flighty girl resisting a disguise-ridden suitor. Jefferson Farber does a nice turn as the self-absorbed Phaeton, floating in a sort of inner tube in the pool while discussing his father issues with the therapist. (Costumed in a shiny gold waist wrap, the ripped Farber bears an uncanny resemblance to Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) His father, the Sun (Keith Irby), sings his lines to his son to Beethoven tunes. Irby is also does a rapid and convincing transformation from hip rich guy to horror-stricken father as King Midas.

The play offers two versions of the well-known story of Orpheus and Eurydice (played by Michael Kevin Darnall and Jade Wheeler), one after Ovid and the other based on a poem by 20th century poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The Rilke version, in which Eurydice forgets her mortal life, even what her beloved looks like, is particularly powerful. A different, destructive power, is manifested when Ceres (Megan Dominy) sends the frighteningly dark and scrawny Hunger (Lisa Lias) to destroy the god-denying Erysichthon, literally riding him to his death from gluttony.

This is not a show that calls for naturalism in acting. We’re not in Arthur Miller country here. Just as the mythic stories told in Metamorphoses are themselves not intended to depict commonplace reality, so the acting style is intentionally stylized and, at times, larger than life (there are a bunch of gods and kings involved, after all). As some characters tell a story, others act it out, as extensions of the storyteller’s imagination. To demand a more literal and restrained approach to characterization is to misunderstand the show.

The lighting design for the production is complex, colorful and subtle, with particularly effective use at times of low light. Tom Teasley’s live music score, which he composed and plays, effectively complements the feeling of various scenes. The entire physical production is stunningly beautiful, and the visual images, constructed by the physically adept actors in conjunction with the technical elements, are indelible. In the Orpheus scene, for example, three souls in Hades, clad in thin black stretch fabric shrouds, form a kind of human sculpture with Eurydice.

At the end of the show, Irby took a moment to ask the audience to spread the word about the show so that the company could have full houses for the rest of their busy (eight performances per week) run. I’m not a big fan of post-show plugs, but I can only repeat this one: Metamorphoses is a show that you should go out of your way to see, and that will make you glad you did.

Director’s Note

Welcome to Metamorphoses!

It is with great joy that Constellation Theatre Company brings you these everlasting myths. The Roman poet Ovid wrote Metamorphoses, which translates as “Transformations,” in 8 CE. The Fifteen books that comprise this master work explore romantic live, greed, devotion, selfishness, insatiable appetites, loss, vanity, grief, abstinence, ambition, forbidden desire, spirituality, generosity, passion and forgiveness.

Mary Zimmerman developed her play based on the tales of Ovid between 1996 and its Broadway run in 2002. She interpolates the episode of Eros & Psyche from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, as well as Rainer Maria Rilke’s 1908 interpretation of Orpheus & Eurydice. In her characteristic style, Zimmerman balances the sacred and the profane. The ancient is juxtaposed with the contemporary.

The script calls for a pool of water, which offers unique and challenging staging opportunities, as well as abundant symbolism, Water is the natural element without which there would be no life. It embodies the idea of transformation — in one moment violent, in another soothing. Water inhabits so many forms, from tears to rain to the vast depth of the ocean. Throughout time it has been the key element in purification rituals, initiation rites and baptism. In water we may receive the divine spirit, experience forgiveness, or gain a fresh perspective on the world. Water makes possible rebirth, redemption, even revelation.

Ovid’s myths and archetypes resonate through the ages both in waking moments and in our collective unconscious. They may be interpreted as cautionary tales, warning us of the power of the gods or forces larger than ourselves. They encourage us to greet the world with compassion and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. They invite us to open our hearts to love; to open our minds to the enigmatic and the ambiguous; to open our souls to our mythic side; and to open our eyes to our own potential for transformation.

Joseph Campbell wrote, “Mythology helps you to identify the mysteries of the energies pouring through you. Therein lies your eternity.” Both Ovid and Zimmerman begin this epic with an invocation of the gods. The Woman by the Water tells us of Creation, “One way or another, people came — erect, standing tall, with our faces set not to gaze down at the dirt beneath our feet, but upwards toward the sky.”

This is the beauty of the human condition — our desire to look upwards; to find our place in the expansive, infinite universe; to give meaning to the images created by constellations of stars that shine for thousands of thousands of thousands of years.

Photo Gallery

Sea Battle - Jade Wheeler, Jefferson Farber, Michael Kevin Darnall, Ashley Ivey Alcyone Sleeping - Katie Atkinson
Sea Battle – Jade Wheeler, Jefferson Farber, Michael Kevin Darnall, Ashley Ivey
Alcyone Sleeping – Katie Atkinson
Hunger'sTriumph - Lisa Lias on the shoulders of Matthew Pauli Underworld - Michael Kevin Darnall, Megan Dominy, Matthew Pauli, Tom Teasley (Musician), Jade Wheeler
Hunger’sTriumph – Lisa Lias on the shoulders of Matthew Pauli
Underworld – Michael Kevin Darnall, Megan Dominy, Matthew Pauli, Tom Teasley (Musician), Jade Wheeler
HermesEurydice - Katie Atkinson, Jefferson Farber, Jade Wheeler (Actors in Black Shade Bags - Lisa Lias, Ashley Ivey, Misty Demory) Eros Psyche - Jade Wheeler, Michael Kevin Darnall
HermesEurydice – Katie Atkinson, Jefferson Farber, Jade Wheeler (Actors in Black Shade Bags – Lisa Lias, Ashley Ivey, Misty Demory)
Eros Psyche – Jade Wheeler, Michael Kevin Darnall

Photos by Scott Suchman

Cast

  • Katie Atkinson: Alcyone, Pomona, Baucis
  • Michael Kevin Darnall: Zeus, Ceyx, Orpheus, Eros
  • Misty Demory: Aphrodite, Pandora, Therapist
  • Megan Dominy: Ceres, Persephone, Myrrha
  • Jefferson Farber: Hermes, Narcissus, Phaeton
  • Keith E. Irby: Midas, Poseidon, Apollo
  • Ashley Ivey: Silenus, Sleep, Vertumnus, Philemon
  • Lisa Lias: Scientist, Iris, Hunger, Myrrha’s Nursemaid
  • Matthew Pauli: Bacchus, Erysichthon, Hades, Cinyras
  • Jade Wheeler: Midas’ Daughter, Eurydice, Psyche

Production Staff

  • Director: Allison Arkell Stockman
  • Lighting/Scenic Designer: A.J. Guban
  • Costume Designer: Kendra Rai
  • Composer/Musician: Tom Teasley
  • Properties Designer: Samina Vieth
  • Fight Choreographer: Cliff Williams III
  • Choreographer: Ashley Ivey
  • Pool Advisor: Leanne Bock
  • Production/Stage Manager: Cheryl Ann Gnerlich
  • Technical Director: Daniel Flint
  • Managing Director: A. J. Guban
  • Publicist: Emily Morrison
  • Associate Artists: Katie Atkinson, Leanne Bock, Katy Carkuff, Jonathon Church, Daina Cramer, Patrick Davey, Misty Demory, Megan Dominy, Jewell Fears, Daniel Flint, Lewis Freeman, Gwen Grastorf, Heather Haney, Jeny Hall, Keith Irby, Ashley Ivey, Amber Jackson, Emma Jaster, Drew Kopas, Lisa Lias, Dylan Myers, Amy Quiggins, Kendra Rai, Lindsey Ruehl, Anna St. Germain, Tom Teasley, Samina Vieth, Anastasia Wilson
  • Associate Production Manager: Jeny Hall
  • Assistant Stage Managers: Jewell N. Fears, Kat Lee, Daniel Mori
  • Fight Captain: Ashley Ivey
  • Carpenters: Steve Attix, Nick DePinto, Kevin Hasser, Theresa Hindersinn, Ellen Houseknecht, Nathan Kurtz, Jason Krznarich, John McAfee, Van Pham, Jen Sickles, Bradley Smith, Christian Sullivan, Scot McKenzie, Andy Zehrung
  • Master Electrician: Jeny Hall
  • Electricians: Karen Bilotti, Brittany Diliberto, Peter Goldschmidt, Micah Manning, Jeff Porter, Aaron Waxman
  • Change Artist: Daina Cramer
  • Assistant Costume Designer: Courtney Leigh Wood
  • Artisan: Vicki Mitchell
  • Costume Crafts: Josh Kelly
  • Puppet and Costume Sticher: Anna St. Germain
  • Shell Jewelry Artisan: Kristen Murphy
  • Sticher: Allan Semanek, Sandy Smoker-Durez
  • Audience Services Manager: Lindsey Ruehl
  • House Managers: Patrick Davey, Ari Lipsky, Ginny Page, Aviva Pressman
  • Photographer: Scott Suchman

Disclaimer: Constellation Theater Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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