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.