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A CurtainUp Review

Review of Original Production at Mark Taper

Metamorphoses Moves to Broadway
by Elyse Sommer
Mary Zimmerman's inventive adaptation of Ovid's myths moved to the Second Stage with most of the original cast and all of the production team intact -- along with that cool and essential pool of water. When I saw that production I could only second Laura Hitchcock, our Los Angeles critic, in singing the praises of Zimmerman and her incredibly gifted team of actors and designers.

The scenic design transferred beautifully to the Second Stage and I thought that the dominating pool of water was well worth whatever special effort must have gone into installing and maintaining it. That pool is the physical and emotional center of the show. It brilliantly evokes natural and emotional turbulence, as in the tale of the daughter who seduces her father in three nights of sensuous embraces that end, as many of these tales do, in removing a blindfold and truly seeing. As that body of water figures vividly in the more stormy myths, it is also essential the more serene moments.

The show opened at Second Stage 9/19/01 and extended several times to 12/30/01. When the Circle in the Square became available, the producers of this surprise off-Broadway hit decided to try for the gold ring and give these elegant ancient myths a chance to metamorphose once again -- this time as a Broadway hit.

To transpose one narrator's observation in one of the final episodes -- "none of these stories having completely happy endings" -- not all show transfers end happily: Small shows that look fine in an intimate setting, can look lost and feel trivial on a big Broadway stage; what's great on the page, doesn't always translate well to the stage. But as Mary Zimmerman managed to help these myths leap from page to stage in a visually stunning and accessible format, so Metamorphoses has moved from the Second Stage's proscenium setup to the audience-surrounded Circle In The Square stage without losing anything in the process. In fact, this theater's usually difficult to work with configuration enhances the all-important pool of water.

With the audience seated all around the pool and excellent sightlines from just about every location, there is actually more of a sense of intimacy in the big theater than the small one. The other stage elements, a door and a sky-fronted platform, are now at the narrow end of the pool instead of straddling the wide section and this works just fine. The ensemble continues to perform with undiminished grace so that you often have a sense of watching a modern dance performance with narration.

The mix of poignancy, uplift and humor are all still here -- with the biggest laughs still going to Doug Hara as the California sunshine boy working out his relationship with Daddy Apollo from his rubber raft-analyst's couch. The flash of nudity, the oedipal myth and the basically adult humor may not make this everyone's choice for a family show, though I think teenagers would enjoy it.

Of course, with the show having just opened officially, this is only the beginning of the Metamorphoses on Broadway story. Time and the box office will determine whether whether the gods watching over this production will, to once again quote a show character, continue to be "not altogether unkind."

Adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman
Chris Kipiniak Cast:: Anjali Bhimani (Myrrha and others), Raymond Fox (Midas and others), Kyle Hall (Hermes and others), Doug Hara (Phaeton and others), Felicity Jones (Aphrodite and others), Chris Kipiniak (Erysichthon and others), Louise Lamson (Alcyon and others), Erik Lochtefeld (Orpheus and others), Mariann Mayberry(Eurydice and others) and Lisa Tejero (Therapist and others).
Set Design: Daniel Ostling
Lighting Design: T J Gerckens
Costume Design: Mara Blumenfeld
Sound Design: Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman
Composer: Willy Schwarz Running time: 90 Minutes without intermission
Circle In the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway (at 50th St. ) 239-6200
2/21/02 - 6/30/02; official reopening 3/04/02
. Tue - Sat 8pm, Wed-Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm -$75

---Review of Original Production in Los Angeles - by Laura Hitchcock

A father's greed changes a girl into a golden statue, a boy's self-obsession transposes his humanity into a blooming narcissus, -- myths old before Ovid recorded them in the reign of Augustus Caesar circa 13 BC. In Mary Zimmerman's fresh, beautiful, piercingly apt Metamorphoses, the ten myths on which she's chosen to focus are as relevant as tomorrow.

She demonstrates that timelessness with sardonic flair in the legend of Phaeton (Doug Hara), son of the Sun God by a mortal woman, who is depicted floating on a raft in sunglasses dictating his story to a suit-clad female psychotherapist. Behind him his father in classic toga and crown sings his lines in formal style. Phaeton tells his father how the other kids don't believe he's the son of the Sun. To prove it, he wants to drive Daddy's car, just once. Well, you remember the story.

The phrase "a monkey on my back" is vividly interpreted in the legend of Erysichthon (Chris Kipiniak), whose desecration of a sacred tree the Gods avenge by afflicting him with insatiable Hunger (Anjali Bhimani), who wraps herself around him until he literally eats himself to death.

Zimmerman sets her production in and around a pool which evokes a Roman atrium and represents everything from the wind-whipped ocean that tears the adventurous Ceyx (Eric Lochtefeld) from his beloved Halcyon (Louise Lamson) to the incestuous passion visited on a father and daughter by the jealous Aphrodite (Hallie Beaune Jacobson) or the fluidy floor for Cupid and Psyche's ultimately happy couch.

Water, that soothing and destructive element, is a co-star in this ensemble production. It brackets the play with the legend of King Midas (Raymond Fox) who is highly irritated by his daughter's noisy games but devastated when the golden touch he begged of the Gods paralyzes her. Zimmerman sends him off, in the play's first scene, to seek a magic pool to bathe away the cursed touch and brings him on in the last scene, after all the tragedies and comedies, to wash his hands and be reunited with his child.

When the Mark Taper Forum had to postpone its production of Peter Parnell's Tuva or Bust, Artistic Director Gordon Davidson used the space to excellent advantage, co-producing Metamorphoses with The Seattle Repertory Theatre and The Berkeley Stage Company.

Zimmerman, a former student of director Frank Galati at Northwestern where she is now a professor, has been provoking buzz for her astute visual and poetic interpretations of subjects ranging from The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci to Persian and Chinese classics. Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre is her laboratory and Metamorphoses is her breakthrough production. She devises her projects in workshops, writing as she goes along, using many actors who have worked with her since college days. Ovid is her main source material here but Edith Hamilton's Mythologies, Rilke's version of the Orpheus legend and Pina Bausch's dance concepts are acknowledged. Zimmerman's work has a strong element of choreography, her dialogue is lyrically spare and her concepts inventive.

Daniel Ostling's classical set design and T. J. Gerckens' lighting which makes shadows dance and loom complement the concept. Mara Blumenfeld designed the formal but surprising costumes, whose vivid colors inject a contempory jolt. The ensemble cast is uniformly good, lacking only the projection necessary for a larger theatre. It's a shame because Zimmerman appears to have crafted words worth hearing. Even while bemoaning this loss Metamorphoses is a welcome change.

Mark Taper Cast: Anjali Bhimani (Raymond Fox , Selinas, Doug Hara, Hallie Beaune Jacobson, Chris Kipiniak, Louise Lamson, Barry Alan Levine, Erik Lochtefeld, Jessica Meyers, Lisa Tejero
Review based on April 5th, 2000 performance at Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles
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