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Arena Stage Metamorphoses

By • Feb 17th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Metamorphoses
Arena Stage: (Info) (Web)
Arena Stage-Fichandler Theatre
Through March 17th
1:40, without intermission
$40-85 (Plus fees)
Reviewed February 14th, 2013

Mary Zimmerman’s celebrated Metamorphoses, based on the writings of the Roman poet Ovid, is at heart about the stories we tell about love, lust, power, greed, loss, ambition, and redemption. Ovid’s myths last because they span the spectrum of human experience and emotion, and Zimmerman’s contemporary take on the material employs the elements of modern theater technique — most notably a pool — to bring these timeless stories to vivid life.

In some moments, Arena Stage’s large, shallow, rectangular pool — reportedly the largest used in any production of the show — is used to striking effect. Phaeton (Doug Hara) takes to his yellow air mattress, alone in the pool in his neurotic and egocentric splendor, providing the funniest moment of the evening. The youthful Myrrha (Ashleigh Lathrop), inconsolably ashamed for having initiated, at Aphrodite’s instance, a passionately lustful sexual encounter with her father (Chris Kipiniak), dissolves into tears and then fades into the darkening water in one corner of the pool. At the end of the show, following the transformation of aged lovers Baucis and Philemon (Tempe Thomas and Doug Hara) into entwined trees, the entire cast is immersed together for the first time, among floating candles, which they extinguish for the final blackout. The effect is nothing short of gorgeous.

There are other moments in which the pool and its perimeter deck appear to constrain the presentation of the show. Action not taking place in the pool — and there is a lot of it — is necessarily confined to the relatively narrow deck (plus occasional use of corner entrances) significantly limiting Zimmerman’s staging options. Actors perch, relatively statically, on one corner or side of the deck to tell a story. At other times, such as a scene in which Pomona (Louise Lamson) skips about while Ceyx (Geoff Packard) comically attempts to gain her attention, the movement of actors around the deck becomes repetitious. Even in the immeasurably touching Rainer Rilke retelling of the Orpheus-Eurydice story, the movement of the actors is inevitably linear and horizontal, though Zimmerman does well in differentiating this version of the story from the original Ovid-based version by blocking Orpheus (Packard) and Eurydice (Lauren Orkus) together on one side of the rectangle in the latter and ultimately at opposite corners for the former.

The mostly Chicago-based cast members, many of whom have worked with Zimmerman before and have appeared in previous productions of the play, provide numerous memorable acting moments. In addition to portraying the conflicted Myrrha, Lathrop is outstanding as the daughter of Midas (Raymond Fox) and the ravenous demon hunger, sent by Ceres (Lamson) to exact revenge on Erysichthon (Kipiniak) for having chopped down a favorite tree. Thomas is a chain-smoking, red-clad wicked witch of an Aphrodite, while Lampson portrays wild grief as Alcyon, whose husband has been lost at sea. On the other hand, the Eros-Psyche scene (with a nude Hara, wearing only a large pair of angel wings, in the former role, and Thomas in the latter) curiously lacked an erotic charge.

Some of the show’s best scenes are among the shortest. The Narcissus story is told briefly and wordlessly, with the frozen Narcissus carried off, still stiff, and replaced with a flowerpot. The last bit of action before show’s end, also wordless, redeems Midas, as his curse — part of the show’s first scene — has been lifted and he can at first tentatively, and then joyously, take his daughter in his arms.

Metamorphoses is one more reminder that the members of the classical pantheon were not a nurturing lot. None of this God is Love stuff from the ancients. Even aside from Ceres and Aprhodite, the play shows Apollo (Packard), the sun, as a distant, then fatally indulgent, father, and Bacchus (Derek Hasenstab) as the amused observer of Midas’ comeuppance. Only occasionally, as in Zeus’ kindness to Baucis and Philemon, do the gods act in what today we would think of as a humane fashion. From a modern perspective, represented ironically in the play by the garrulous Therapist (Lisa Tejero), the gods represent contradictory and sometimes destructive tendencies of human nature.

If Arena’s very sound production lacks some of the magic of last season’s mounting by the Constellation Theater Company, it may be in part because the eclectic musical score by Willy Schwartz lacks the immediacy and cohesion of Tom Teasley’s live accompaniment for Constellation. Eclectic is also the word for Mara Bluemfeld’s costumes, which often favor skirt-like contrivances for the men (in one case oddly combined with a sleeveless undershirt). Aphrodite’s red dress and Pomona’s print costume also stood out. In addition to the pool and deck, Daniel Ostling’s set features an infrequently-used chandelier and several large hanging panels picturing blue sky and white puffy clouds. The fair weather sky was a bit discordant during the storm sequence early in the show.

Photo Gallery

Raymond Fox and Doug Hara The cast
Raymond Fox and Doug Hara
The cast
Chris Kipiniak and Ashleigh Lathrop Geoff Packard and Louise Lamson
Chris Kipiniak and Ashleigh Lathrop
Geoff Packard and Louise Lamson
Chris Kipiniak, Ashleigh Lathrop and Lisa Tejero Tempe Thomas, Lauren Orkus and Lisa Tejero
Chris Kipiniak, Ashleigh Lathrop and Lisa Tejero
Tempe Thomas, Lauren Orkus and Lisa Tejero
Ashleigh Lathrop and Chris Kipiniak Geoff Packard, with Raymond Fox, Ashleigh Lathrop and Chris Kipiniak
Ashleigh Lathrop and Chris Kipiniak
Geoff Packard, with Raymond Fox, Ashleigh Lathrop and Chris Kipiniak

Photos by Teresa Wood

Cast

  • Midas and others: Raymond Fox
  • Phaeton and others: Doug Hara
  • Hermes and others: Derek Hasenstab
  • Erysichthon and others: Chris Kipiniak
  • Alcyon and others: Louise Lamson
  • Myrrha and others: Ashleigh Lathrop
  • Eurydice and others: Lauren Orkus
  • Ceyx and others: Geoff Packard
  • Therapist and others: Lisa Tejero
  • Aphrodite and others: Tempe Thomas

Production Staff

  • Director / Playwright: Mary Zimmerman
  • Set Designer: Daniel Ostling
  • Costume Designer: Mara Blumenfeld
  • Lighting Designer: T.J. Gerckens
  • Sound Designer: Andre Pluess
  • Original Music Composition: Willy Schwarz
  • Stage Manager: Cynthia Cahill
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Marne Anderson
  • Casting: Phillip R. Smith with Raymond Fox
  • Associate Production Manager: Marissa LaRose
  • Technical Director: Scott Schreck
  • Properties Designer: Chuck Fox
  • Master Electrician: Christopher V. Lewton
  • Sound Director: Timothy M. Thmpson
  • Costume Director: Joseph P. Salasovich
  • Costume Shop Manager: T. Tyler Stumpf
  • Show Carpenters: Richard Irwin, Sean Malarkey
  • Props: Marin Hampton Dube
  • Light Board Operator: Scott Folsom
  • Assistant Lighting Designer: Alexandra Mannix
  • Sound Engineer: Roc Lee
  • Wardrobe Supervisor: Alice Hawfield
  • Wardrobe: Gerri Ford
  • Wigs/Hair: Vincent Hill
  • Wardrobe Day Crew: Laura Cividanes, Ayanna Fox
  • Stage Management Fellow: Leigh Robinette
  • Directing Fellow: Nadia Mahmassani
  • Richard Irwin, Sean Jefferies, Sara Splaine, Elisabeth White: Overhire Carpenters
  • Overhire Painters: Za Johns, Katherine Wertz

Disclaimer: Arena Stage 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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