“Metamorphoses” takes place on a stage of water and will be performed in the round at Arena Stage.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses,” a lush, sensual adaptation of classic myths by Ovid, opens Thursday night at Arena Stage.
Many of the cast originated their parts in the 1998 Lookingglass Theatre Company production in Chicago. And after nearly 15 years of intermittent productions performed over a stage made of water, Arena’s round theater is making it feel, well, new again.
“It changes a lot,” said Doug Hara who plays Eros, the god of love, among other characters.
Up until now, it was the water, the dominant feature in this show, that could be relied on to transform each night. It is telling, however, that the cast points to performing in the “round,” not in the uniquely malleable water, as the real challenge.
Origins of a Myth
It all started nearly two decades ago with a student play called “Six Myths” that Zimmerman staged at Northwestern University. Years later, she worked with several of the actors appearing in this current revival to create “Metamorphoses,” which debuted in 1998 in the Windy City.
From there it flew east, arriving in New York in August 2001. The next month, on the last day in their rehearsal space, the events of Sept. 11 hit and changed everything, including the show. Suddenly, the audience and the performers processed the events in the real world through the myths relayed on stage.
“There is a story, the second story of the piece, which is the longest one,” said the actor who originated King Midas, Raymond Fox. “It is essentially about a couple, and the husband goes to work that morning, as he does every day. He goes to sea, and the wife has a bad feeling, and she says, ‘Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go.’”
But the husband doesn’t listen and dies at sea.
“All [the wife] wants is to get his body back,” Fox said. “That’s all she wants.”
“There were times, when we were off-Broadway, when we would hear people just weeping in the house,” he recalled.
After the show’s Broadway run, it crisscrossed the country. Now, after eight years of being dark, the watery stage has been revived.
Myth and Love
The first night “Metamorphoses” opened for its Chicago revival last fall, Zimmerman gathered her actors, slightly older and more deeply connected than they were when they first played the roles in Chicago in the 1990s.
Fox remembered that she told the group: “These stories have been around for thousands of years. They came down from the oral tradition and they represent a certain reality about the human condition. They are about greed and loss and redemption and lust and love and all of those things. Those archetypes are not things that we will ever solve. They are things that will always be with us.”
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