Transformation is central to Greek myth and to Mary Zimmerman’s 1996 play Metamorphoses, which draws on those stories as set down by Ovid.
In this Apocalypse Theatre production directed by Dino Dimitriadis, the act of transformation is a constant. Everything and everyone seems to be in flux. A character’s gender, place in a power structure, physical self as represented by an actor, is apt to dissolve in an instant.
Zimmerman playfully riffs on stories familiar and obscure beginning with the story of Midas and his beloved daughter. The legend of Orpheus arises twice, told from the different perspectives of the lovers as they make their way out of the Underworld.
There’s the ever-prescient cautionary tale of Eryichthon, a wilful king who orders a sacred grove chopped down. The goddess Ceres curses him to forever feel the pangs of an insatiable hunger that brings a kingdom to its knees.
The comic tale of Pomona and Vertumnus stands in stark contrast to the incest drama of young Myrrha and her father. The legend of Phaeton is given a contemporary spin. He wants the keys to dad’s car (dad, incidentally is Apollo and the car is the Chariot of the Sun).
In another story, Zeus and Hermes come down from Olympus to test the hospitality of the people. Only the elderly Baucis and Philemon make the grade and, by way of a reward, are granted their only wish: that neither will outlive the other.
In the beautiful story of Alcyone and Ceyx, a grieving wife is reunited with her lost husband. They are transformed into seabirds eternally skimming the waves with their wingtips.
Narration duty is liquidly handled by Dimitriadis’ cast of 10, who, in the course of 80 minutes, play 30 or more characters. Movement is more or less constant as the actors slide and shimmy across Jonathan Hindmarsh’s scaffold set, one that can remind you of a kids’ playground one minute, a pleasure dungeon the next.
The central feature is a rectangular pool of milky water in which characters dissolve, drown in or are reborn from. Dimitriadis has the good sense not to overplay the visual metaphor.
Benjamin Brockman’s lights run from hot to cool, caressing the skimpily clad, occasionally naked and frequently wet bodies as they negotiate the twists and turns of the set (somewhat gingerly, on opening night).
The performances range in intensity and scale. Some have a tighter grasp on the music of the text than others at this stage in this early stage production’s development (it has a four-week season, plenty of time to ripen) but all shine when called on.
Deborah Galanos is a brassy Midas, Zoe Terakes a guileless, haunting Eurydice. Diana Popovska burns as the physical manifestation of the hunger consuming Jonny Hawkins’ flamboyant Eryichthon. Hawkins is great fun as the lovesick, shape-shifting Vertumnus.
Sam Marques is very effective in the contrasting roles of Myrrha and Ceyx, the sailor husband of Alcyone (Baridya McKinnon).
Opening night revealed a Metamorphoses still working out some of its transitions and emotional peaks but the bones of a fine show are clearly there and it sings in the light of conversations on gender and representation happening right now.