Review by Suzanne Angeo (Member, American Theatre Critics Association) and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Walk up two flights from the Baldwin Theater lobby and you’re treated to a bizarre sight: a stage-sized swimming pool surrounded by wooden walkways, and a chandelier overhead. This is your first clue that it’s not going to be your typical evening at the theatre.
Presented by the Stagecrafters at Baldwin’s intimate 2nd Stage, “Metamorphoses” unfolds at water’s edge in a series of eleven short, vibrantly-textured vignettes that present ancient Greek and Roman myths in modern contexts, and in the most surprising ways.
Midas, Bacchus, Apollo, Psyche, Orpheus, Aphrodite – all take their turns on the stage in a production that is lively, funny, provocative and, at times, profound.
“Metamorphoses” is a 1996 play based on the classic epic poem of the same name by the Roman poet Ovid, who lived more than 2000 years ago. You might say it’s an ambitious work – it tells the history of the world as told by the gods. The poem, all 15 volumes of it, is considered the most influential piece of literature in the Western world.
According to playwright Mary Zimmerman, “These myths have a redemptive power in that they are so ancient. There’s a comfort in the familiarity of the human condition.”
She set the play around a pool of water that represents the origin of life and civilization, dreams and the subconscious, eternal but transformative, and declares “Myths are the earliest form of science.”
Zimmerman’s play compresses the essence of Ovid’s work into a brisk 90-minute presentation with no intermission, and won several Tony awards. The watery vignettes depict tempests, shipwrecks, crossing the river Styx into the Underworld, incest, gods visiting in disguise, unrequited love and tragic loss.
You’ll see Midas in a tacky suit that must have been rescued from the 1980s, and the son of Apollo lounging in a floating pool chair while talking to his therapist. You’ll learn the lovely, haunting origin of the phrase Halcyon Days, and truly get the meaning of “Be careful what you wish for.”
Between scenes, members of the cast emerge with mops after all that splashing. There’s an undeniable slip hazard for the actors, but you’d never know it by their fluid, natural movements in and out of the water.
The pleasing ensemble cast is made up of ten actors, and they tell their stories well. But while some possess classic stage presence and voices, most of the others have a more conventional delivery that could make less of a dramatic impact in a larger venue, although it works in the intimate space of the 2nd Stage’s “black box”.
Each actor plays multiple roles, with standouts including Josh Allor, Rachel Biber, Cassie Najor and Brian Tuscany. Director Jody Florkowski was so dedicated to presenting this show that he spent several years convincing the theatre committee, and another year with Dan Rose and his crew designing and building the set for a show that runs only two weekends. Original music by Willy Schwartz combines with the likes of Mozart for a fresh approach to scene transitions and during pivotal moments onstage.
Stagecrafters’ production of “Metamorphoses” is a commendable expression of the beauty and power of Zimmerman’s transformative work. It makes for a great evening and is sure to inspire lively discussion afterwards.
To learn more about Stagecrafters, visit stagecrafters.org.