TDPS's Metamorphoses is a Stunning Theatrical Achievement
The moment you lay eyes on the 2,000-gallon pool jutting out from the stage of the Zellerbach Playhouse, you know you’re about to witness something truly special. As the music filling the theatre crescendos, the lights dim, and gorgeous blues and purples bathe the set, you can’t shake the feeling that greatness is right around the corner. Yet the show that proceeds seems to transcend the descriptors of “special” or “great;” they feel too base, too surface. Because TDPS’s Metamorphoses isn’t just an exceptional theatrical production, but a profoundly moving theatrical experience.
TDPS’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s Tony-winning Metamorphoses breathes new life into familiar Greek myths by blending modern and classical elements to create an entirely original aesthetic. The show begins with a solemn, traditional monologue about the origins of the world. Immediately after, the cast erupts into a hypnotic and exhilarating dance sequence. This is our genesis, our big bang— an explosion of euphoric dancing fit for a night club. The extended dance break isn’t just mesmerizing, but it dispels any and all of the pretension one might expect from a retelling of Ovid’s classic tales.
The stories within the show range from stomach-churning drama to gut-busting comedy, with each introducing a new set of characters from various time periods. Two standout sequences revolve around fathers: Myrrah’s (Verity Pinter) tragic encounter with her father has audience members clinging to their seats, while Phaeton’s (Yohana Ansari-Thomas) irreverent reflection upon his relationship with his father draws seismic laughter. The show’s vignette-style storytelling propels the narrative forward, recaptures our interest with every new iteration, and allows for a constant influx of new stimuli. The stimuli— exquisite lighting (Jack Carpenter), set (Nina Ball), sound (Ian D. Thomas), and costumes (Wendy Sparks) among them—are as essential to the show as the stories themselves.
It’s hard to do justice to a show as vibrant and visually arresting as Metamorphoses with just words. It is one of the most visceral and tactile theatrical experiences I’ve ever had; you can practically feel the delicate silks of the costumes, the pounding of rain upon the stage, the fervent swish of oars dragged through water. All the actors are barefoot to stress the show’s emphasis on tactile sensation, eliminating the material boundary between their bodies and the stage. The pool, which acts as a centerpiece for both the set and stories, breaks the boundary between stage, actor, and audience and creates heightened sensation throughout the show. Water sloshes as Alcyone (Peyton Victoria) searches of her lost love, violently splashes as soldiers drown during a sea voyage, and the gently ripples from Midas’ daughter’s solid gold form. The constant movement of the centrally located pool helps to animate the characters’ plights, allowing them to more viscerally manifest in the present moment.
The actors also interpret the source material with absolute mastery, bringing emotional relevance to its ancient origins. It’s impossible to spotlight any particularly exceptional cast members as there is not a single weak performance; every actor in the show performs with equal brilliance, carving new meaning from their archetypal characters with incredible skill. With cast members portraying multiple roles, the entire cast gracefully blends to bring a myriad of characters to life, portraying both mercurial gods and the mortals at their mercy.
The show concludes with incredibly satisfying full-circle storytelling. As the show let out, every audience member that passed was either intensely analyzing the material or intensely gushing over the performance, and for good reason—Metamorphoses engages and moves its audience with rare profundity. If Greek mythology doesn’t particularly interest you (for which I really don’t blame you, as I’m definitely not a fan myself), it doesn’t matter; the myths are so well told and reimagined, you won’t even realize they’re thousands of years old. And if nothing else, see Metamorphoses for its deeply stirring and awe-inspiring visuals. The show’s grand scale, rich colors, stunning staging, and—of course—2,000-gallon pool affirm the beauty and endless potential of theatre all at once. Let Ceres (Claire Pearson) best prepare you for the visual feast that is Metamorphoses: “Bon appetit.”
Metamorphoses runs October 20-22 at Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC Berkeley Campus. Tickets are $13 to $20 and can be purchased online through the TDPS box office or at the door.