The stories in Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” may date back thousands of years, but her reinvention of some ancient Greek and Roman myths proves they still have a lot to say.
There are lessons about greed, narcissism, deep love and the importance of taking care of those less fortunate that resonate in new ways each time you hear them.
Some, like the story of King Midas who discovered the dark side of having everything he touched turn to gold, are well known. Others, will have just a whiff of familiarity — a word or phrase that sounds like something you may have heard about years ago.
But they all come to life anew in the splashy and engaging production that Kathy Pingel has staged in and around a pool of water in Venice Theatre’s intimate Stage II.
Designer Tim Wisgerhof has turned the space into a kind of spa, with a pool surrounded by a deck and a raised platform for the God characters, and colored panels jutting out of the walls that carry on the water theme. John Michael Andzulis’ lighting reflects beautifully against the water and helps to set shifting moods of happiness, concern and mystery.
You do feel like you’re entering an environment rather than a theater.
The cast works well as an ensemble and has no trouble getting wet, or walking or running around the playing space with dripping costumes, impressively designed by Nicholas Hartman to look like they’re part of the sea.
The cast members, some with more confidence or power than others, each play multiple roles. Alison Prouty and Jeremy Guerrero create the strongest impression, particularly in the gracefully told story of the love between Alcyone and Ceyx that was almost destroyed when his boat was ravaged in a storm. The Gods took pity on Alcyone’s grief and brought them back together as birds and giving us the term “halcyon days.” They also play out another unusual love story, with Guerrero as a besotted Vertumnus and Prouty as a seemingly oblivious wood nymph named Pomona.
Neil Levine is both gruff and touching as Midas barking at Rachel Weaver as his playful daughter and then walking across the earth to undo a blessing-turned curse. Melyssa Dawson is haunting as she silently writhes around the stage as Hunger who carries out a binge-eating curse ordered by Ceres against Erysichthon (Edward Hamill II) for cutting down a beloved tree. It’s not nice to trick Mother Nature.
Demitrus Carter is funny as a mirror-loving Narcissus, and he pairs nicely with Trish Campbell as two simple people who impress Zeus with their kindness in one of the show’s most meaningful scenes. Jeffrey Sadler has a comforting ease as Eros, paired in a moving way with Wendy Dettman as Pysche. And Jamie Lee Butrum projects a bit of authority as a demanding Aphrodite.
Rebecca Holahan has a nice sarcastic tone as a woman questioning the messages and metaphors noting that “almost none of these stories have completely happy endings.”
They don’t, but they are staged and performed with intelligence and emotion. They serve as reminders that we are stewards of the earth and one another, and we need to be more mindful of the impact of our decisions and actions.