By Manning Harris
“Nothing retains its own form; but Nature, the greater renewer, ever makes up forms from forms. Be sure there’s nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form.” Thus spoke the Roman poet Ovid 2000 years ago in his greatest work, “Metamorphoses.”
Georgia Shakespeare first performed Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of the piece in 2006; they are presenting it once again, and it will run through July 21 on the campus of Oglethorpe University.
The overarching subject here is transformation. Grow or die; death is but a transition. The Bhagavad Gita says, “For that which is born, death is certain, and for that which is dead, birth is certain.” Ovid is here showing transformations in Greek and Roman mythology.
Joseph Campbell (“The Power of Myth”) would have loved “Metamorphoses.” He wouldn’t have minded the lack of dramatic tension; he would have reveled in the otherworldly ambience and would have loved the use of a real pool of water on stage. Ms. Zimmerman has commented that “water is very metaphysical,” and that it can stand in for grief, or be very sensual and even funny.
If all this sounds terribly highfalutin, fret not; Director Richard Garner has assembled some of the best actors in Atlanta to tell nine of the stories, and they do it in 90 minutes. There’s some lovely music by Kendall Simpson and a scenic design by Kat Conley (what would Atlanta theatre do without this talented artist?).
And such actors: a veritable who’s who of Atlanta’s best, including Chris Kayser, Carolyn Cook, Tess Malis Kincaid, Joe Knezevich, Park Krausen, and Neal A. Ghant. If these names mean nothing to you, then welcome to Atlanta theatre. But there’s more: Travis Smith, Ann Marie Gideon, Kristin Butler, and Barrett Doyle. Ms. Butler and Mr. Doyle are making their GA Shakespeare debuts, and they bring a welcome freshness and energy to the proceedings.
In PR notes GA Shake describes the play: “An elderly couple questions whether the end of life means the end of love. A greedy father finds he’s gotten more than he wanted when everything he touches turns to gold…A fearful wife learns the transformative power of love.” And there’s “forbidden love…thwarted ambition.”
You would guess correctly that the more famous stories involve King Midas, Narcissus, Eros and Psyche, and (my personal favorite) Orpheus and Eurydice. These are stories that say something about the human condition—obviously. They’ve lasted thousands of years. Playwright Zimmerman’s brilliance in adaptation comes in her use of the pool. Water has always had a magnetic, mystical quality about it; it’s so common, yet it’s mysterious and sensuous (oh yes, there’s a touch of nudity in the play).
Speaking of the pool, Ms Zimmerman won a 2002 Tony Award as Best Director for a Broadway run of the play at the Circle in the Square Theatre, which I saw. This theatre is three quarters round, so the audience was seated almost completely around the pool—up close and personal. (I remember the management even offered towels to the patrons seated in the first row—a fun device.) But this theatre (The Circle) provided more intimacy, and you could always see other people watching; nice for sharing cultural myths and emotions. Critics commented on this unexpected boon.
We’re a bit distanced from the proceedings here (no help for it), and there’s a lack of dramatic tension and cohesion. One story simply follows the next. But it’s such a unique, almost hypnotic experience—and we’ve got those great actors—that “Metamorphoses” is close to required viewing this summer.
For tickets and information, visit gashakespeare.org.