A triumphant return of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses at Berkeley Rep.

Alex Moggridge (foreground) with Rodney Gardiner and Louise Lamson (background, l to r) in Metamorphoses at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

METAMORPHOSES: Mythological Comedy written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Berkeley Rep’s, Peet’s Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org. (A co-production with Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN)

January 24- March 10, 2019 Rating: ★★★★★ EXTENDED THROUGH MARCH 24, 2019

A triumphant return of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses at Berkeley Rep.

When you go to see Mary Zimmerman’s Tony Award winning play Metamorphoses, and you should not miss it, be prepared for an intellectual mythological bath both figuratively and actually. Figuratively and intellectually the play was brilliantly fashioned about 20 years ago from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” translated by David Slavitt. The actuality is the play is staged in a pool of water that fills the Peet’s thrust stage surrounded by walkways used by the characters to encircle the action when they are not actually performing in the water. It is a conceit that Zimmerman mines to the utmost. The addition of a large hanging screen signifying the realm of the Gods allows cogent projections to buttress the mythological vignettes. 

It begins with a brief introduction by the Gods suggesting the world creation is multifactorial filled with order and chaos dependent on human foibles. We first meet King Midas (Raymond Fox) and the story is told by three laundresses. Midas banishes his disruptive daughter from his sight while he is extolling his financial wealth. Eventually he is granted that fatal wish that turns his daughter into gold and his only option to right this wrong is to seek a mystic pool where normality can be restored. He heads out on his journey.

 The three laundresses continue with a story of King Ceyx (Alex Moggridge), who travels by sea seeking a far off oracle despite his wife Alcyone’s (Louise Lamson) warning. Zimmerman is well known for her use of miniature props and Ceyx’s ship is one of them pulled by a string across the pond before Ceyx is killed by Poseidon’s storm.

The transitions between the vignettes are intricately stage with improbable props, incidental music (Willy Schwarz) with light and sound integrated into the action. When antigod Erysichthon  (Steven Epps) chops down one of Ceres’s sacred trees the spirit of Hunger makes Erysichthon captive to an insatiable appetite to the point of spending all his gold on food and he tries to sell his mother.

Then there is Narcissus who is frozen when he glimpses himself in the pool and the stage crew converts him into a narcissus plant.

One of my favorite scenes is acted out in pantomime. When Pomona is sought by shy Vertumnus (Benjamin T. Ismail) all the action takes place on the runways surrounding the pool as Vertumnus changes into multiple costumes (Mara Blumenfeld).

 No mythology treatise is complete without the Orpheus and Eurydice (Susy Weller) legend. In Zimmerman’s take on it she imagines it being told from both his and her viewpoint. Yes the snake that bit Eurydice does the dirty deed that sends her to Hades

The ending is beautiful wrap up with candles floating on the water and the King Midas legend resurfaces allowing the audience to leave in an ecstatic mood.

To write a review of this fascinating production with such interpretive dialog, split second stage action, philosophical viewpoints, eclectic staging within and out of the pool becomes problematic and sometimes confusing since all the actors have double or triple roles that are not specifically attributed in the program. Hopefully this review will whet your appetite to visit Berkeley Rep.

Running time is an enthralling 90 minutes without an intermission. A must see production.

CAST: Steven Epp (Erysichthon), Raymond Fox (Midas and Others), Rodney Gardiner (Phaeton), Benjamin Ismail (Hermes/Vertumnus), Louise Lamson (Alcyon), Felicity Jones Latta (Aphrodite), Alex Moggridge (Ceyx), Sango Tajima (Eurydice), Lisa Tejero (Therapist), Suzy Weller (Eurydice)

CREATIVE STAFF: Willy Schwarz (Composer), Daniel Ostling (Scenic Designer), Mara Blumenfeld (Costume Designer), T.J. Gerckens (Lighting Designer), Andre Pluess (Sound Designer), Amy Potozkin (Casting).Michael Suenkel (Stage Manager).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com