Metamorphoses: Review

Seniority has its privileges. Initiative does too.

I’m the guy who proposed the idea of us partnering with Globe Theatre to blog review their Main Stage and Sandbox Series plays for the 2010-11 season. When I pitched the idea to our writers, Aidan Morgan and James Brotheridge expressed interest in participating. Aidan has already posted one review, and will do the Christmas musical Honk! when it opens Nov. 24. James, meanwhile, will post his first review next week when the second Sandbox play A Watched Pot Never Boyles opens.

When we were divvying up the first part of the Globe season, I exercised my prerogative as prairie dog’s senior arts writer to claim Metamorphoses as mine to review. It’s the creation of American playwright Mary Zimmerman, and is inspired by a contemporary translation of a true masterwork of Western literature by the Roman poet Ovid.

Realistically, it probably wouldn’t hurt people to bone up a bit on their ancient Greek and Roman mythology before seeing this play. Although hopefully many of the characters in Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid’s 15-volume work still have traction into present day. Yeah, Midas is probably better known now as a muffler company. And Hermes as a Paris-based manufacturer of swank purses and other fashion accessories. And Poseidon inevitably evokes thoughts of the nautical disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure. And Persephone is a theatre in Saskatoon.

But even if you aren’t overly familiar with these mythical characters, there’s sufficient exposition in Zimmerman’s text, which unfolds as a series of eleven dramatic vignettes, to be able to follow along. And quite apart from the narrative, the staging by director David Storch and his crew truly is spectacular. In fact, I was initially prompted to review Metamorphoses when I learned it featured a 2000-gallon tank of water installed on the stage. No, I don’t harbor an Esther Williams fetish. Rather, it just seemed to open up a world of possibilities as far as innovation and artistry go. And I’m pleased to say that Metamorphoses totally fulfilled its promise.

This might well be the best main stage play I’ve ever seen at the Globe. It got a standing ovation at the end, and it was richly deserved. I saw it with a young woman I know named Madeleine, and she loved it too. Funny, sad, sexy, tragic, poignant, profound. Those are some of the adjectives that come to mind when I think about the play.

It’s a greatly abridged version of Ovid’s work. It runs 90-minutes without an intermission, and I think that helps keep the audience engaged throughout. There is no break where people retreat to the lobby and chat about the Riders, the weather, whatever before returning to their seats for the second act.

There’s something mesmerizing about the pool of water too. At various times it serves as a laundry tub, a luxe swimming pool, an ocean, and the river Styx that Orpheus crosses while descending to Hades (Hell) in search of his deceased bride  Eurydice. The lighting, both artificial and natural via tealight candles and candelabras, is exquisite too, evoking equally well the pastoral setting of some of the tales, along with the mythical realms inhabited by the gods who are alternately bemused, outraged and touched by the actions of the mortals they encounter.

Costuming is another strong suit. Having Midas appear as high-powered businessman, for instance, perfectly captures the “greed is good’ ethos at the heart of his wish (that Bacchus, the Roman God of Partying essentially, grants after Midas helps a bud of his sleep off a wicked bender) that everything he touches turn to gold.

I’m not sure what the exact distinction between myth and religion is. Both, in my mind, are rooted in attempts by humanity, at an early stage in our development, to explain the world around us, our place in it, and the diverse drives and physiological processes that both delight and confound us. Where Judeo-Christian religion departs from the Greek and Roman mythology that preceded it is in its almost virulent denial and condemnation of many things that make us human.

Indeed, in the centuries following Ovid’s completion of Metamorphoses in 8 A.D., it came under attack by Christian theologians like St. Augustine and St. Jerome for its pagan nature — its recurrent theme of change or transformation in humanity and nature an abomination in comparison to the Christian ideal of transubstantiation in which the body and blood of Christ is converted into bread and wine through the Eucharist.

Heavy stuff, I know. But when it comes to the big issues of life — death, desire, compassion, greed, hubris — it sometimes helps to think outside the box of mundane daily human existence. That’s what this play allows us to do. And it is must-see theatre.

Metamorphoses runs at the Globe Theatre until Oct. 31. For tix, call 525-6400.

Author: Gregory Beatty

Greg Beatty is a crime-fighting shapeshifter who hatched from a mutagenic egg many decades ago. He likes sunny days, puppies and antique shoes. His favourite colour is not visible to your inferior human eyes. He refuses to write a bio for this website and if that means Whitworth writes one for him, so be it.

22 thoughts on “Metamorphoses: Review”

  1. Really, the selective paraphrase of Wikipedia articles, in order to slam Christianity, is getting old. Yes, “The Metamorphoses” got a rough ride in what could be called late antiquity, from such austere pre-Calvinists as Augustine of Hippo and Jerome, but it survived to become the most-read classical work in the middle ages – which, you’ll recall, had a decidedly Christian flavour.
    The exact distinction between myth and religion, if I may offer it, is that myth is a story-reliant means of explanation, and therefore a part of religion, which in its broadest sense is a world view.
    And as to the role of Judeo-Christian religion in “denial and condemnation of many things that make us human”, I refer you to Elaine Pagels’s “The Gnostic Gospels”, especially the conclusion, where she distinguishes between the flesh-and-world-hating gnostics and the far more positive,less elitist, and more community-minded orthodox Christians. Amazing what one can learn if one opens one’s mind.

  2. Yeah Greg. You got transubstantiation backwards. The bread and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ. The other way around would just be silly.

  3. I guess I’d qualify the idea of religion as being a world view reliant on belief/superstition as opposed to objective evidence. At the beginning of the play, there is a character in a lab-coat that represents the idea of science and the role that it has played in the last few hundred years in more accurately explaining our reality/existence.

  4. So where do you put the Baha’i faith, which sees faith and science as united? Or, where would you put the religions of indigenous peoples? Are you going to characterize the latter’s beliefs as superstition, or do you just save that for the Judaeo-Christian adherents? Inquiring minds want to know.

  5. I’d be content to live in a world without religion. For now, my biggest concern is fundamentalist forces in the West and elsewhere that are opposed to the notion of secularism and rational thought and instead seek to impose their millenia-old belief systems on others — Christianity being by far the biggest and most powerful offender.

  6. I wouldn’t waste my time with them anymore, Barb. Because you know what? When his life is a wrap, and he’s at his final resting place, he (his spirit) will give Him Glory by acknowledging HIS MIGHTY POWER. And if he doesn’t, he’ll still call His name on the slow ride to Hell.

    Somebody, somewhere did tell them about Jesus. There are no excuses.

    *Now back to my fourth shot of espresso*

  7. P.S. They did a great job with this play! Small correction: The tank is 500 gallons not 2000 gal.

  8. Sean: 2 Timothy 4: 1-5. Nothing there about “wasting” one’s time.
    I’m looking forward to seeing the play myself!

  9. You are right, Barb. I pray they will one day reach their hand out of the sinking sand, and build a new and abundant life on the solid rock called Christ.

  10. The vitriol against Christians is beyond me, Stephen. Some deep issues beyond Judeo-Christianity are being harboured by your pups.

    Can’t I visit my favorite blog without being made to feel like I’m behind enemy lines?

  11. I wouldn’t worry overmuch, Sean; enjoy your favourite blog, but if someone makes a gratuitous and/or inaccurate post, simply call him/her on it. That is part of the “enlightened discourse and/or entertaining squawking” that makes this blog so much fun, and it comes with the territory for journalists.
    Mr. Beatty: Christianity is not a monolith, and neither is Islam (which you never mention except obliquely), and Buddhism has well over 30,000 holy books, so maybe blanket condemnation of complex historical and cultural phenomena shows a failure of analysis.

  12. We’re all behind enemy lines on the internet, Sean. I try to ignore the stuff I don’t like or (better) attempt to have fun arguing about it.

  13. (Unfortunately I have to work my tail off today so I can’t play on the blog. Poo.)

  14. One last word:

    “I wouldn’t worry overmuch, Sean; enjoy your favourite blog, but if someone makes a gratuitous and/or inaccurate post, simply call him/her on it. That is part of the “enlightened discourse and/or entertaining squawking” that makes this blog so much fun, and it comes with the territory for journalists.”

    What Barb said!

  15. What do you guys think about the emerging bigoted nature of young NDPers? Many union-bred, for sure, but others who should seemingly know better. Do you think Xenophobia is coming back in a huge way this decade?

  16. Garth – I am out of the Sask/Canada news loop at the moment. Can you elaborate? You’ve peaked my interest.

  17. I don’t know any young NDPers, Garth, so I couldn’t say. Couldn’t tell you about young Sask Party people either.

  18. Garth,

    Well you got my interest. By the way, define ‘young’? Like under 25 crowd or what?


  19. You can hardly use a standing ovation as a yardstick for achievement in Regina. I can’t remember a play at the Globe where people haven’t given a standing ovation. Sadly it seems to have lost its meaning. It was a very good play, but some of the actors are still a little green, and to my mind this wasn’t the best I’ve seen at the Globe. A standing ovation should be kept for the exceptional – otherwise it loses all meaning.

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