Change is difficult, but it is possible.
This is the lesson Mary Zimmerman espouses in her play Metamorphoses, which opened at Erindale Studio Theatre last Thursday with back-to-back sold-out shows.
The play, directed by David Matheson, offers vignette after vignette of mythic story-telling based on Ovid’s classic poem of the same name. Early on in the play, one of the narrators says, “Myths are the earliest form of science”—meaning, I suppose, that myths explain the way things are. The myths Zimmerman uses are simple, yet full of meaning.
An incestuous relationship between a daughter and her father, the death of a lover repeated for an eternity, a man led to self-cannibalism by his own selfishness. These are some of the images that stay with you long after the show is over.
The main set-piece of the story is a pool of water, with only a wooden path around it. The pool stays the same, but its function changes. In one scene the pool is a serene pond, in another it is a raging ocean, and then by the next story it is back to calm. The pool symbolizes chaos and order: an element that can both stain and wash away.
Almost all the main characters in the play go through a transformation. The inciting action to each of their metamorphoses is violence, either physically, emotionally, or both. And it is almost always tied to love: the death of a loved one, loving oneself, or longing for love. Like in the story of Alcyone (Aria Sharma) and Cyex (Cameron Doherty), in which her love for him is so strong that the gods transform both Alcyone and Ceyx into kingfishers, so they can be with each other. Throughout Metamorphoses, love is almost always lost, to be found again in a new form. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad.
Metamorphoses touches upon primal, basic feelings, offering an archetypal vision of the human condition. Each character personifies a human emotion: Midas (Mackenzie Burton) is greed, Myrrha (Gillian Clare) is lust, Narcissus (Lucas Blakely) is narcissism. Each story touches upon something terrifyingly real.
Most of the stories told throughout the play carry perverse elements which detail love and its ramifications.
Love also acts as the catalyst for change in each story. Midas holds his fortune so dear to his heart that Bacchus (Yona Epstein-Roth) grants him the power to turn anything he touches into solid gold, inevitably causing Midas to turn his own daughter into gold. Myrrha’s love for her father is perversely twisted by Aphrodite (Kyra Keith). Orpheus travels down into the underworld to save his wife (Lindsay Wu).
The modern comedic moments of the play, however, never seemed to land that well with the dramatic language of Ovid’s poems and the tragic subject matter of the stories. That being said, a hilarious scene plays out as Phaeton (George Alevizos) discusses his father, the sun god (Lucas Blakely), with his therapist (Alexia Vassos) during a “counseling session.” By the end of the scene, he is haphazardly driving Apollo’s chariot through the sky before crashing it into the earth.
The star of the show is, without a doubt, the second Laundress, Lachesis (played by the wonderful Karen Scora). She is a sly storyteller, weaving through each myth with brevity and deftness, aware of the gravity of her words and the depth of the stories. She carries herself with poise, and always speaks as if she knows something we don’t.
The moral of Metamorphoses can be found in the story of Eros (Liam Galway) and Psyche (Rebecca Macdonald). Eros is the god of love, and Psyche represents the soul. As one of the Laundress’ says, “The soul wanders in the dark until it finds love. So, wherever love goes, there we find our soul.”
Love, to Zimmerman, is the most powerful force in the world. Through love, each of us has the capacity to flourish into something greater than ourselves, but the process is difficult and arduous.
“Let me die still loving, and so never die,” is one of the final lines of the play, and it says much about the human condition. Love transcends even death.
The play ends on an uplifting note: Midas journeys to the ends of the earth to find a pond that washes his curse away, turning his daughter back to normal.
With haunting music, solid acting, and beautiful choreography, Metamorphoses captivates and draws us in, forcing us to acknowledge truths we would rather dismiss.
Change is difficult, but it is necessary.
Theatre Erindale’s Metamorphoses runs until November 11.