Mary Zimmerman’s remount of her splashy adaptation of Ovid’s transformation myths marks a couple of notable anniversaries for Lookingglass: It opens the company’s 25th season, and it notches ten years since the production opened on Broadway, earning Zimmerman the 2002 Tony for direction of a play (and making her just the second woman to garner that award).
Eight of the ten cast members in this new production served in the show’s original mounting in 1998 at the Ivanhoe Theatre (now replaced by a massive liquor store). Even for those of us who saw neither that version nor the Broadway iteration, which also starred several of these actors, that knowledge adds resonance to their performances here. What have they learned, you wonder, in the last decade and a half, that brings new color to their portrayals of King Midas or Orpheus and Eurydice? What events in their lives have changed their perceptions of these tales over the years, and what events have changed ours?
Zimmerman’s take on these tales, based on a 1994 translation by David Slavitt, is famously staged in and around a shallow pool of water designed by Daniel Ostling. The settings and language are often winkingly modern, as when stubborn King Erysichthon, cursed by the goddess Ceres with insatiable hunger, is described as a type we’re familiar with, “always yelling at waitresses.” Phaeton, son of the sun, Apollo, reclines on an inflatable chaise longue while relating his woes to a very Freudian therapist—she who tells us that myths are “the earliest form of science” and “a public dream.”
The actors splash and thrash through these effectively, affectingly told stories of love and loss, death and life, hope and change, which ebb and flow into one another as fluidly as their liquid stage. You might be given to ask, while cringing for the show’s wardrobe crew, “Why water?” But whatever else has changed leading up to the much-traveled piece’s first production in Lookingglass’s current home in the Water Tower Water Works, the water works.