When Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses landed on Broadway in 2002, it became famous for its set: a giant pool of water. The pool is smaller in director Dino Dimitriadis’ production of the play, but its effect is no less transformative: in the basement of the Old Fitz Hotel, its surface breaks and reforms just the same.
With a striking and generous ensemble – Claudette Clark, Deborah Galanos, Jonny Hawkins, David Helman, Sam Marques, Bardiya McKinnon, Diana Popovska, Hannah Raven, Sebastian Jamal Robinson and Zoe Terakes – this collection of Greek myths feels almost brand new, shifting past constructs of gender, space, time and linear storytelling to create a collective playground for the human condition. Each story is narrated, line by line, by each member of the ensemble. Dozens of characters are enacted with grace and empathy – mythic creatures and a pantheon of gods writ achingly human.
Zimmerman’s text – marrying the playful and colloquial with the epic to re-tell Ovid’s Metamorphoses – is perhaps more dated than the idea of the work, but it remains beautiful here. Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design is gently industrial, all stars and scaffolds that contrasts with the ensemble’s mutable, flowing movement and draws our eyes down to the water, where all hard lines disappear. Benjamin Brockman’s lighting shifts and grows in intensity with each vignette, spilling shadow and the relief of light over the actors when they need it most. Ben Pierpoint’s sound design, much like the minimalist props and costume changes, nudge the stories to fresh heights.
And those stories. There’s Midas (Deborah Galanos), whose desire for gold was everything he needed until it destroyed his child; Alycone (Baridya McKinnon), who waits for her husband Ceyx (Sam Marques) to return, sitting on the shore he sailed from; in his living moments, Ceyx prays to the gods to return his body to her hands, so she can prepare him for his final journey. When the gods honor their love by transforming the couple into sea birds, to fly and love together again, it’s almost healing.
There’s wood nymph Pomona (Hannah Raven), followed by Vertumnus (Jonny Hawkins) in various guises; she does not love him until he finally shows his true face. There’s Eros and Psyche, whose love for each other is inevitable, infinite, and blind; Myrrah, cursed by Aphrodite for having spurned the concept of love into loving someone unimaginable. There is greed and lust and endless hunger; there is forgiveness and compassion and always love.
There are more, shifting through carefully judged, sensual and gliding movement (transitions are marked by David Helman’s languid pole work), but two scenes are particularly moving and between them seem to reveal the heart of Dimitriadis’ production.
When Orpheus (Diana Popovska) journeys to the underworld to bring his bride Eurydice (Zoe Terakes) back to life – only to lose her in a last minute moment of doubt – we see the action play out twice. First, from Ovid’s work, we see Orpheus’ perspective – his deep love, his deep grief, his immense loss. And then, with the well-placed prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, it’s Eurydice’s turn; this woman whose life is done, so deep within herself forever that Orpheus feels so far away.
It’s bittersweet, moving and complex. And the central idea, of our endless and essential capacity to love while alive - and it must not be wasted - comes back to us when poor married couple Baucis and Philemon earn a favour from the gods. They ask only for the gift of being able to die at the same moment; to never live without each other. To never outlive their capacity for love.
As they die and turn into trees, branches intertwined, a rainbow spills across the stage and lights up the milky water, urging us – beyond gender, beyond sexuality, beyond sense – to keep our capacity for love limitless and our walls down.