Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bones are coral made,
These are pearls that were his eyes.
Presented by the Aurora Fox Arts Center through September 22, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, aurorafox.org.
Nothing of him that doth change
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.
— Shakespeare, The Tempest
This summer, Geoffrey Kent directed one of the best Colorado Shakespeare Festival productions I've seen in years, a version of A Midsummer Night's Dream that fizzed with creativity, humor, energy and odd little touches of tenderness and surprise. So I walked into the Aurora Fox to see his version of Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses with a single burning question in mind: Could he do it again?
It helps when the script is as moving and resonant as this one. Metamorphoses is a retelling of nine myths, most of them from Ovid, one a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. The action takes place in and around a pool of water, and water imagery dominates as characters transform within the pool's depths or skim across the surface, create murderous watery mayhem or playfully splash each other. Eight performers act out the myths, metamorphosing appropriately as they do. Zimmerman didn't invent these myths, of course. They're ancient, and in many ways, they themselves change shape over time because they're meta-stories, rooted deep in the human psyche (which, as the play tells us, once meant "soul" rather than representing the personal travails and neuroses embedded in the current word "psychology"). They deal with universal themes: change and transformation, greed and selflessness, death, familial relationships, varieties of love, and love's redemptive powers.
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As arranged by Zimmerman, these tales echo and amplify each other. There are two stories about untrammeled greed. One tells of King Midas, whose worship of gold destroys his only daughter. In another, Erysichthon chops down a tree sacred to Ceres, goddess of summer and fruitfulness, and the spirit Hunger is sent to punish him; maddened, he consumes everything he has, finally devouring his own flesh. That image of all-consuming, ravenous, never-to-be-sated hunger lingers in many forms today, from Little Shop of Horrors to Jan Svankmajer's spooky film Little Otik, in which a block of wood turns into an all-devouring, ever-growing human baby. The relevance in our corporate-swallowed world is obvious. Over the course of the evening, love is both gained and lost, and three loving couples are eternally united with the help of the gods — who are as demanding, generous, arbitrary, cruel and unpredictable as they show themselves in the courses of our own individual lives, and do tend to require sacrifice as the price of their services.
The tone is anything but lofty and solemn, though some scenes are deeply moving. There are all kinds of comic moments: a mime sequence showing Narcissus paralyzed by his own beauty; Phaeton floating on a plastic raft and complaining to his analyst that his father, Phoebus Apollo, won't let him drive the car. I don't know why Apollo sings his response to a melody from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, but it's a funny touch, and Michael Morgan turns out to have a very pleasant voice. In fact, playing a number of roles, Morgan makes perhaps the strongest contribution to the production. Zachary Andrews and Jaimie Morgan are well cast, too — he as Eros, among others, and she as both Aphrodite and Eros's beautiful bride, Psyche. There's excellent acting from Justin Walvoord, Jada Roberts, Michelle Y. Hurtubise and Carmen Vreeman, sweetly innocent as King Midas's daughter. Ryan Wuestewald is hilarious in several parts, but is miscast as Orpheus — and the direction falters here, too. In some scenes, a long piece of fabric drops from the ceiling. Actors touch it, swing on it, hang upside down, creating arresting images. But in the Orpheus-Eurydice scene — which can and should be carried primarily by Rilke's language — it distracts.
Otherwise, this Metamorphoses is a visual feast, and the technical elements are key. After Charles Dean Packard created an icy mountain peak for K2 a couple of years ago, I recognized that he was an amazingly resourceful designer, but here he's surpassed himself, creating a gorgeous pool of water so deep that actors can actually immerse themselves in it and disappear or send great gushes fountaining through the air. Highlighting the beauty of this pool is Shannon McKinney's glowing lighting; Meghan Anderson Doyle's timeless costumes perfectly augment the tone and style of the production. In Kent's hands, this Metamorphoses turns out to be a brilliant explication of a beautiful text.