Theater Review: ‘Metamorphoses’

| Theater Editor
David Kilper | WUSTL Photo Services

Senior Kate Healy is cast as Aphrodite in “Metamorphoses.”

Showing: at Edison Theatre, at 8 p.m. on April 30 and May 1, and at 2 p.m. on May 2

Many courses offered next semester include the idea of change: Calculus deals with instantaneous changes in functions, biological anthropology concerns changes in human physiology, and history chronicles changes in the world over time. This weekend, theater adds its own perspective. Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses,” a play currently showing at the Edison Theatre, challenges a viewer’s relationship with change. Specifically, “Metamorphoses” explores how fundamental human nature, which has remained static for thousands of years, responds to sudden hardship or reward. Furthermore, the play asks the audience to find the lifestyle best suited for confronting unexpected change.

“Metamorphoses” condenses Ovid’s epic and selects the most powerful myths to illustrate the theme of change. The gods, though “not altogether unkind,” exert their influence on the mortal world by dramatically interfering with the lives of humans.

From Midas to Orpheus, and from Alcyone to Baucis, mortals undergo various metamorphoses, or physical changes, which reflect their internal traits. Hubris is punished, while charity and love are rewarded. To stress the timeless nature of these myths, some take place in antiquity, while others have anachronistic references to better tie their stories to today. These myths, however, offer more than just simple morals like the importance of humility and piety. “Metamorphoses” also shows why myths themselves retain importance and relevance.

Sometimes I wonder whether my passion for the humanities is worthwhile. If I major in English, philosophy or history, I’ll never cure cancer, balance the national budget or design better computer systems. Toward the end of the production, “Metamorphoses” addresses these concerns as a therapist comments on Phaeton’s story. Phaeton, the son of Helios, the sun god, asks his father for “the keys to his car.” Helios initially refuses to allow Phaeton to command the sun, but Phaeton persists. Helios relents, and Phaeton nearly destroys the world. With plenty of humorous psychoanalysis, the therapist concludes two points about the nature of Phaeton’s tale. First, “myths are the earliest form of science,” and second, “myths are public dreams.” After Phaeton’s tale, the audience hears Mozart.

Art, and the rest of the humanities, carries the same themes as myths. With myths as the first science, then, one can approach “Metamorphoses” as a guide to proper human life. With love and charity and Baucis and Philemon, humans can transcend their nastier natures and find redemption.

“Metamorphoses” delivers handsomely as a theater experience as well. The amazing set features a pool of water in which actors stand, sit, walk and lounge. For the best experience, one must have a basic knowledge of classical mythology. Unfortunately, some of the lines have a flat delivery. While the characters and myths of “Metamorphoses” are ancient, their portrayals at times felt too inhuman. Relating to their experiences and empathizing with them could be difficult.

Nonetheless, the ending of “Metamorphoses” is perfect. The visual and narrative elements combine to create a powerful image. There’s no other word for it but perfect. See “Metamorphoses” for its timeless perspective on life, arrogance, love and redemption.

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