Metamorphoses is one of the central texts of Western culture. Written by the Roman poet Ovid around 8 AD, it tells fifteen mythic stories about gods, divine and mortal lovers, and the transformations that their dedication or tribulations bring about.
An English translation in the 1500s provided Shakespeare with much of his raw material, including parts of Titus Andronicus, currently on offer at Bard on the Beach. This script is a contemporary adaptation by American director Mary Zimmerman, who won a Tony with it in 2002. Local director Christine Willes stages it here with mixed results as a showcase for her recent grads from the William Davis Centre for Actors’ Study.
Zimmerman does for Ovid what Andrew Lloyd Webber did with the Old Testament. Like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat but without the songs, Metamorphoses retells its classic stories with cute, but sometimes only cutesy, updating. Bacchus (Ian Smith) is a goofy dude in a bra and party mask. Pomona (Kiki Lightburn) tosses an apple around like a baseball.
Mimi Abrahams’ hot tub sized swimming pool set dominates the tiny Pacific Theatre stage. Gathered around or inside it, ten performers narrate and act out Ovid’s tales. Greedy, self-important businessman Midas (Chris Ireland) is delighted when the gods grant his wish that everything he touch turns to gold—until he touches his daughter (Michelle Kim). In a tight red dress and pulling on a cigarette, Aphrodite (Leslie Brownlee) makes Myrrha (Kim) lust after her own father Cinyras (Robert Tadashi)—a sexy interlude in the pool. Phaeton (Vaughn Jones) tells his shrink (Katherine Coupland) how badly he wants to drive daddy Apollo’s car across the sky.
These scenes work best when the actors don’t try so hard and when director Willes tones down the mugging. The finest moments in the show are its simplest and most straightforward.
When Psyche (Brownlee) pursues Eros (Jones, naked but for his wings), two other actors simply narrate the moving story of how “the soul wanders in the dark until it finds love.” The effect is exquisite. Similarly potent is the story of old couple Baucis (Evelyn Neufeld) and Philemon (James Behenna), who ask to end their long, loving life together by dying together, and are turned by the gods into intertwined trees.
Abrahams contributes an effectively moody lighting design. Vaughn Jones and Lianne Tang’s soundscape provides nice texture. And though the novelty of seeing (mostly) fully dressed actors splash around in a pool wears off about halfway through, it’s still a pretty cool way to experience a midsummer night’s metamorphosis.