Now, Zimmerman mounts it in Arena Stage’s Fichandler space, for its first presentation with an audience on all sides, and in the largest pool ever built for its waterborne theatrics. The results intensify the dramatic impact and amplify the beauty. Having seen “Metamorphoses” both on Broadway and at Lookingglass, I can attest that Arena’s production is not only the most serenely alluring, but also the most affectingly performed.
Five of the actors in the Fichandler were also in the Broadway version, and so veterans such as Hara, Kipiniak, Raymond Fox, Lisa Tejero and Louise Lamson carry out their assignments with the polish of long acquaintance. Fox is particularly strong as a King Midas, whose every gilded footstep is accompanied by an unsettling chime, and Lamson’s Alcyon wades with palpable anguish into the water, waiting for a seafaring Ceyx (Geoff Packard), who’ll return only in her dreams. The others immerse themselves with just as much conviction, making the Arena ensemble the most persuasive I’ve encountered.
Zimmerman’s theatrical addiction is classical texts, and her fix has always come in translating literary metaphors into physical images that delight modern sensibilities. The knock on her is that on occasion, an academic twee-ness infects the work (she happens to be a professor of performance studies at Northwestern University). One can see in “Metamorphoses” the intrusion at times of triteness, as when Midas foreshadows tragedy by repeatedly shouting at his daughter, “Be still for once!” Or when Hara’s Phaeton, wearing shades and lounging on a float, languidly complains about the inattentiveness of his father, Phoebus Apollo, otherwise known as the god of the sun.
These moments, though, are the exceptions. More often, the director-adapter, working from David Slavitt’s translations of Ovid, homes in on a touching quality of the myths, to give body to the ineffable, to explain aspects of interior life in terms of divine gifts and punishments. Grief, regret, desire, selflessness, vanity: All are couched in “Metamorphoses” in vivid picture-stories that provide to spectators a bit of graspable context, and in some cases comfort.
Thus, in the account of Orpheus (Packard) and Eurydice (Lauren Orkus) — first related here in Ovid’s form and then again, in a variation by Rainer Maria Rilke — we watch in horror as Orpheus squanders his last chance for happiness. His momentary lapse, turning to glance at Eurydice and in so doing dooming her to hell, becomes a function of a most understandably and sympathetically human of attributes: curiosity.