Theater Review: METAMORPHOSES (A Noise Within)

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by Tony Frankel on May 20, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


Critics often speak of “universal themes”  — these are topics to which people in any place and at any time can relate. One of the main reasons that Greek literature, Aesop’s Fables, Shakespeare, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, to name a few, retain their appeal is that people from varied backgrounds and beliefs can relate to the joy and sorrow of the human condition in these stories.

Geoff Elliott and Kasey Mahaffy

No doubt director and writer Mary Zimmerman has always been attracted to epic tales because of their universal themes, adapting them for the theater in über-inventive productions. These tales, ancient or otherwise, also express conceptions of right and wrong behavior (“morals” for those who have forgotten what they are). While Zimmerman has created shows based on inspirational figures (Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci), she is best-known for her trademark cheeky and humorous twists on the classics: The Arabian Nights (my favorite); The Odyssey; The White Snake; Mirror of the Invisible World; and especially Metamorphoses, which won Zimmerman a 2002 Tony Best Director nod and is currently receiving a breathtaking revival that justifies itself from the first minute on at Pasadena’s A Noise Within.

Trisha Miller, DeJuan Christopher, Rafael Goldstein and Kasey Mahaffy

It took Ovidius Naso, a first-century Roman poet, to do full justice to over 250 Greek myths. His Metamorphoses assembled a panoply of gods, heroes and mortals into 15 books of Latin hexameter; the legends cover everything from the creation of the world out of chaos to the deification of Caesar and reign of Augustus. Because it is no longer mandatory reading (and all mythology should be such), it’s reason enough to applaud David Slavitt‘s 1994 Ovid translation, Rainer Maria Rilke’s classic poem Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (1904), and the story of Eros and Psyche in Lucius Apuleius’s Metamorphoses (the only ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety), as they inspired Zimmerman in 1996 to adapt these tales, helping us remember how the constancy of change truly changes nothing. Things just metamorphose.

Kasey Mahaffy and Nicole Javier

Over her career, Zimmerman has perfected dazzling theatrical innovations, but here it is literally having water onstage. Since shows are not being performed in rep this year, the 3/4 thrust raised stage at A Noise Within can be transformed into a reflecting pool. Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, set designer François-Pierre Couture and a crackerjack design squad bring sparkling theatrical inventiveness and magical elements to this glorious idea, which no doubt depicts the fluidity of Ovid’s protean alterations: Here the gods — and a few lucky or miserable mortals — morph into anything but themselves: Seabirds, interwoven trees or human tears. This highly recommended production theatricalizes these stories, ones which contain language and images familiar to the 21st century as a way of reaching back to tales as old as civilization (unfortunately, you also get some very unwelcome sandals from the men that squeak and squawk once doused).

 The Ensemble

DeJuan ChristopherGeoff ElliottRafael GoldsteinNicole JavierKasey MahaffySydney A. MasonTrisha MillerCassandra Marie Murphy; and Erika Soto: In 90 minutes, the nine members of this wily ensemble transform again and again to embody figures from Greek mythology, from the well-known stories of Midas’s golden touch and the self-involved Narcissus to the lesser-known stories of Alcyone’s grief and Erysichthon’s punishment. They change roles as effortlessly as slipping off a toga. These awesome thesps gamely splash, float, drown, and paddle as they emote between ripples. A storm smashing sailors at sea is highly effective given the actors’ determination, combined with Kenneth R Merckx, Jr‘s fight choreography, Robert Oriol‘s sound design, and especially Ken Booth‘s lights which shimmer, thunder, and thrust. Although the tales are classical, some vocals have an absence of classicism, which — while de rigeur at an L.A. theater — should not happen at all with a Classical Company. Watching pros such as Mr. Elliot enunciating with a beautiful clip make swallowed words from a very few castmates stand out even more. But worry not, you will see some incredible acting from some very likeable people, not the least of whom are Mr. Mahaffy and Ms. Soto.

(front) Erika Soto, Rafael Goldstein

This literally flowing premise keeps us spellbound from fore to aft, bookending the play with the cautionary tale of Midas’s terrible touch. Did we forget that his curse was cured? A magical redemption returned his daughter from gold to flesh. It’s fascinating that Zimmerman ends this enchanted evening by destroying the power to shift shapes — she’s reminding us that love is the greatest shifter of all.

Geoff Elliott and Erika Soto

photos by Craig Schwartz

Sydney A. Mason and Erika Soto

A Noise Within, 3352 Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena
Thurs at 7:30Fri at 8Sat at 2 and 8; and Sun at 2
ends on June 5, 2022
for tickets, call 626.356.3121 or visit A Noise Within
free parking behind theater at the Sierra Madre Villa Metro parking structure

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