Among theater buffs, Midwest-based Mary Zimmerman has long had a glowing reputation, but her works are not often seen here. Syracuse University Drama Department produced her Aladdin in February 2008, and the Redhouse Arts Center gave us her poolside Metamorphoses outdoors in summer 2011. Now director Stephen Svoboda has revived that production indoors (through May 17), with dancers flown in from California and, yes, an indoor wading pool constructed by Tim Brown right on the less-than-capacious stage. Gods and heroes might have misbehaved in ancient mythology, but they all move on squeaky-clean feet.
Once the audience sees the action staged in and around the pool (on a planked runway), we understand the water is more than a gimmick. Its function keeps changing. It might be the Underworld, the River Styx, the sea, or, as it appears to be, a pool. Then again, mythic stories, even when they are so accessible that a child can perceive them, are also literature of the unconscious mind.
Most of Zimmerman’s 11 vignettes are drawn from Ovid’s Latin Metamorphoses and one, “Psyche and Eros,” is from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses composed 150 years later. Both poets adapted stories from earlier times, built on the theme of transformations, the literal meaning of the title. One of the first episodes, on King Midas, demonstrates how these work. The greedy monarch (J.F. Curtin), looking a bit like a hedge fund manager, delights in turning pebbles into coins until he stiffens the step of his daughter (Lauren Koss).
Other episodes are romantic, like the devoted married couple Alcyone (Caitlin Geier) and Ceyx (William Thomason), while others are sharply comic. Disgruntled son Phaeton (John C. Nagy III) can never live up to the expectations of his father Apollo (Anthony Malchar), the sun god. This sends him to an understanding Therapist (Binaifer Dabu), whose “couch” is an inflated raft in the pool. Still others are cautionary. After the arrogant Erysichthon (Nagy again) destroys a tree sacred to the goddess Ceres (Caitlyn Oenbrink), he is punished by having the spirit of Hunger (Junko Yasuda), dressed in black, wrap herself around him until he is driven to devour himself.
Players are seen more often dancing than swimming, guided by choreographer Caitlin Geier. The frolicsome wood nymph Pomona (Grace Allyn) skips around the pool while trying to convince the shy Vertumnus (Patrick Burns) to give up disguises and reveal his true self. Disguises and costumes, ancient and modern, come courtesy of Nikki Delhomme.
Pictured above: Stephen Svoboda, director of the Redhouse’s Metamorphoses. Photo by Michael Davis.