Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: METAMORPHOSES (The Flea Theater)

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by Cindy Pierre on January 13, 2011

in Theater-New York

ANCIENT TALES OF WORLD WAR II

Pants on Fire’s Metamorphoses is a deliciously entertaining, award-winning import from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that the U.S. is lucky to have.  Set in Britain during World War II, Ovid’s already colorful tales about gods, love, and creation come alive in a vivid, vaudevillian presentation that exploit’s the cast’s flair for comedy and heightened drama.  Though the show doesn’t grip you from the very beginning, it only takes a few minutes to get going and provide you with a titillating, unforgettable experience.

Adapted and directed by Peter Bramley, Metamorphoses is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit during hardship and unspeakable loss.  It is as much a chronicle of an innovative time period as it is a fabulous time.  Maximizing on the creativity, the show employs beautiful period costumes, stylish updos, and a snazzy, original score by Lucy Egger to take you through one of Roman mythology’s most popular works.  And though the production is comprehensive, it never feels overwhelming because each vignette is carefully crafted by Bramley and marvelously executed by the actors.

Here, Jupiter (Jonathan Davenport, a Ewan McGregor look-alike) is a smoking jacket-wearing playboy and his wife Juno is a gliding goddess clad in a slinky black dress with feathers in her hair.  But that’s just the beginning.  Everything is unpredictable and sexy, from the clever performance shtick to the body parts that dart in and out of view.  Gods are ridiculed, beautiful maidens are tortured, and the origin of things like coral and peacock feathers are explained.  Here, we visit old favorites like the stories of Narcissus with a cinematic twist and Andromeda, where Perseus fights a Medusa (Eloise Secker) with messy rollers in her hair.  And just when you think that the imagination has gone as far as it will go, Samuel Wyer’s puppetry makes you squeal with delight.

Even though levity abounds in this production, it never loses sight of the tragedies that the British people overcame. The theme of war persists, even if it is dressed in humor. In Jupiter and Io’s story in which Io (the fantastic Mabel Jones) is transformed into a heifer, her jowls are a gas mask and her hooves are tin cans.  War is as much a monster, even more so, as the multiple-eyed Argus Panoptes that guards Io.  Despite the dark storytelling and war images, Metamorphoses never feels too heavy.  It’s the perfect blend of humor and seriousness.

Like the stories that comprise the show, Metamorphoses is ever-changing, with skits that top each one that precedes it in concept and follow-through.  Though Ovid’s perception of the world is comparable to the theory of evolution, you don’t need to take a side on this issue to enjoy the show.  An open mind and the willingness to have fun on the journey will do.

photos by Tom Packer

Metamorphoses
Pants on Fire
The Flea Theater
41 White Street between Church and Broadway
ends on January 30, 2011
for tickets, call 866.811.4111 or visit The Flea

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