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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Review of Original Production at Mark Taper
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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