Metamorphoses

Mary Zimmerman
Circle on the Square, New York
(2003)

It is greatly to be hoped that this excellent play, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, will make it to England. Her last effort, Galileo Galilei, the opera collaboration with Philip Glass, played at the Barbican as part of BITE:02 . Metamorphoses would fit well into the 2003 season.

The basis is Ovid. This play bears a considerable relation to the RSC's Tales From Ovid which was based on Ted Hughes' poetic translation. This new play, which is constantly inventive, is more like John Barton's Tantalus in style with chatty narration and an often modern feel to the classic tales.

The set, designed by Daniel Ostling, is one of the special factors that makes this show such a success. It is a square of boards surrounding a pool. Lit by T.J. Gerckens, this constantly reflects light and images. This ensures that the show is always visually interesting and is helped by the appropriate and sometimes witty choice of music composed by Willy Schwarz and designed by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman.

Mary Zimmerman clearly has great vision and her sense of humour intrudes on a regular basis, often with clever visual or aural touches. The use of the pool also adds absurdity and drama in equal measures. The deaths of characters can become literal fights. The front row seats are cheap and the patrons receive towels, gratis. They also get their fair share of showers.

The pool can also act as the source of beautiful erotic images, especially when moonlit in the tale of Myrrha (Naomi Peters) who loves her father too much.

The tales that are chosen all revolve around poor tetchy, proud King Midas (Christopher Donahue) and his quest to lose his golden touch. This leads us into tales of love and sadness including Orpheus and Eurydice and Alcyone and Seix. There is also a five-second Narcissus - arguably all that he deserves.

The peak is reached in the tale of the innocent nymph Pomona (Tara Falk) and her suitor, Orisipher (Kyle Hall) which leads us to see another forbidden love, that of Myrrha.

The other highlight involves the Woody Allen-like Phaeton (Doug Hara) on his lilo-cum-couch being analysed by his therapist (Lisa Tejero) and explaining that his father Apollo, the sun, doesn't love him.

The speech tends to be witty but can be poetic and the stories work well stylistically, building back to a happy ending as Midas escapes his burden and a sense of closure is achieved in a candle lit ending. The acting from the ensemble is good and Zimmerman generally directs them well.

This show has bucked Broadway trends as a play rather than a musical and one that has succeeded with no major name stars. It is to be hoped that this is the start of a new trend.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher