Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review: METAMORPHOSES -- Waiter, Waiter! There's a Vortex in My Zach!

[image (c) Kirk R. Tuck, 2010]

Allow me to begin this review with an apology-- alas I do not have time for one of my 5,000 word discourses on the play, METAMORPHOSES, now showing at ZACH. That is because, poor me, in about 48 hours I'm hopping on a plane to Tel Aviv and good lord you should see my To-Do-Before-Leaving List. On the other hand, letting y'all know about the show is part of that list, so I'm making time to share what I can.

First, if you're wondering, "Should I See It?" Oh yes! It's a wonderful show and I'm telling you, ZACH is on a super duper roll this year. Hell, so is Hyde Park Theatre. So are a number of other production companies. You might get sick of hearing me go on and on about how lucky we are to live here, but that won't stop me. My fellow theater fanatics are already aware of what an abundance of great stage shows we have. For the rest of you who keep putting off live theater, knock-knock? Time to rectify that.

Now, about METAMORPHOSES. It was written by Mary Zimmerman back in 1996 but what catapulted it to Tony Award status likely was, at least in part, its unfortunate "good timing." That is, the show made its off-Broadway debut in October 2001, just weeks after 9/11. I thought about this a lot as I watched the ZACH production, which stands strong even without knowing the context of the NY run. But knowing it adds that much more to experiencing it, as the play, based on Ovid's work, is, as the title suggests, all about transformation. There's a lot of death in there, and plenty of grief. The NYT reported that you could hear people openly sobbing throughout and it doesn't surprise me one bit. I don't think I could've handled seeing it back then.

Seeing it now though? I'm glad I did. Dave Steakley directs this one and the man loves visual spectacle. Boy is there plenty of it. If you've never seen Blue Lapis Light performing vertical, mid-air dances on long silk fabric, prepare to have your mind blown. Throughout the acts there are many times when these silks drop down from the ceiling and actors perform elaborate physical feats that most of us couldn't do standing on the ground and assisted by a team of Cirque de Soleil performers.

But wait, there's more. The theatre, which is in the round, has a set made up of a swimming pool. That's right, a pool. And much of the acting takes place in this pool, which time and again is used to tremendous effect. It also invites, on numerous occasions, an opportunity to trot out some super buff actors in super tiny bathing suits. We're not talking pot-bellied fashion criminals at Barton Springs, people. We're talking... well, go see for yourself and my apologies for objectifying the well-buttocked lads sporting the itty-bitties but, you know, I call it like I see it.

I did recall, as I watched, another water-themed show-- Oceana-- put on by Vortex a year or so ago. And I might be mistaken but I think I saw some crossover in the cast here. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised to see this show at the Vortex, which often presents works based on myths and imbued with a fantastical feel.

The play moves from one ancient tale to another-- King Midas, Alycone and Cyx, Orpheus and Eurydice, and on and on. I try not to read the program ahead of time because I like to be surprised. This time I cheated and noted with curiosity that the voice of John Aielli was going to be involved in Act II. So when Act II kicked off with a scene about Narcissus, I was pretty sure it was time for JA's disembodied cameo. Alas, I was wrong. This comes later, during a scene portraying Eros and Psyche, in which his offstage voice discusses with the offstage voice of a little child the meaning of love, with a bit about sex thrown in, all this while a totally naked-- well, okay, save for his wings-- Eros floats in the pool. I admit the Aielli thing was a bit disconcerting, but probably due to some very personal tastes and opinions I hold about the man.

As scene after magnificent scene unfolded, I found myself thinking this would be a terrific show to take the kids to. Forget about modern day action heroes, of pumped up good guys vs. bad guys. Long before our current renderings of such tales there were the mythical heroes of old and characters making big missteps and paying terrible consequences. Really exciting stuff. Though I would caution there is that one scene that involves attempted suicide and incest so you might want to exercise caution unless you're open to discussion on the drive home.

METAMORPHOSES plays through September 26, 2010 and you can find out more about buying tickets here.

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