Metamorphoses – Arena Stage

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Metamorphoses, currently showing at Arena Stage has been staged for years around the world and received a standing ovation from the audience at Arena Stage, but it just didn’t resonate with me.  The show is a re-telling of the mythological stories from Ovid in a series of vignettes.  Here in D.C. it is being performed in the round – for the first time – with most of the action taking place in a large shallow pool of water that stands in for the stage, or on a small wooden deck that surrounds the pool.  The visual display that is the performance lives up to much of the hype this show receives and I can understand how the original Broadway production won a Tony for best direction; however, I get the sense that if not for the pool of water the show would not be so well received.   The play itself, without the water would be largely forgettable.  This isn’t to be laid at the feet of the actors, who were serviceable, but more on the script.

The pool, what to say about it.  When it was used appropriately it was an effective tool, but it too often turned into a gimmick.  A gimmick that at points was used to intentionally splash water on the first few rows of the audience.  The show most effectively used the pool during the telling of Alcyone and Ceyx, where Alcyone warns her husband about his voyage overseas.  During the voyage Poseidon destroys his ship and Ceyx dies.  The actor portraying Poseidon was physically picking up Ceyx and thrashing him around and throwing him around the pool as he struggled to stay alive.   It was one of the few moments where the action on the stage and the use of the pool married and the pool became more than the gimmick.  But far more often there was no purpose for the pool.  In fact, the dramaturgy in the playbill notes that many productions around the world do not even use a pool for their production. 

Another issue I had with this show is there was no cohesion in the story.  It truly was a series of vignettes, and but for the connection between two of the stories each story could have been told at any point within the show.  The only true cohesion was between the story of Pomona and Vertumnus and the story of Myrrha.  Where within the tale of Vertumnus and Pomona, Vertumnus tells the story of Myrrha in trying to convince Pomona to be with him.   This was extremely disappointing considering mythological tales have some morality play attached to them that are ripe for writing an overarching story or connection between them.  There was nothing more to the show than to tell the various stories while the actors splashed around in the pool getting soaking wet.  I’ve seen shows that use vignettes as the storytelling device, but usually a connection is made between the scenes to make a larger point and the larger point is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts.  In this case, there really was nothing more than the parts and for me the parts weren’t enough despite the spectacle of the pool.

Up Next: Hughie at the Lansburgh

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