*Originally posted on the Capital Critics website here!*

Metamorphoses: A Change Would Do You Good

Ian Huffam

            It’s ironic that a play about change and transformation would have problems with consistency. Despite this unexpected issue, Jillian Keiley’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses is often enjoyable and at points even worthy of a satisfied sigh.

Metamorphosesis based on the Roman poet Ovid’s book of the same name, which serves as a compendium of Greco-Roman myths involving supernatural transformations. Metamorphoses uses 10 of these stories,ranging from the well-known (Orpheus and Eurydice) to the more obscure (Myrrhaand her incestuous love for her father), and sets them in and around a swimming pool. Few of these myths have happy endings, and most scenes are no longer than10 minutes.

It is when one scene transitions into the next that one of the biggest weaknesses of this production comes through: Keiley fails to embrace the concept of change and tries to maintain an even tone throughout a play that consists of unrelated stories. The result is several scenes where the language is stilted and passionless; the narrators frequently employed in the text often seem bored or like they’re just reciting.The most egregious example of this was a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice in the style of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, where the actors merely walk around the set slowly and methodically while speaking their lines in a monotone. This lends an odd post-modern feel to the scene that Keiley likely did not intend.

This reluctance to commit to the theme continues with the staging of the actual transformations. Each story has a moment where a character undergoes a sudden and monumental change, which is accomplished through the use of stunning tableaux in the water, the mutable element. Some of these transformations are executed beautifully (such as an old woman jumping into the pool and emerging as a young girl), but more often than not the opportunity to use great theatrical illusion is ignored and director Keiley takes the easy way out – when Midas touches his daughter and she turns into a golden statue, the actress was just a little bit out of the spot where the yellow light was supposed to shine on her and the trick became evident.

That’s not to say this production isn’t enjoyable, by any stretch of the imagination. The production hits its tone perfectly in the stories of Myrrha and of Baucis and Philemon, a poor but generous couple who get their just reward. Bretta Gerecke’s set is a thing of beauty, a two-layered structure with a shallow pool below a deep glass-walled tank as well as a curtain of rain at the rear of the stage. Jonathan Monro’s water-inspired score, played live by the actors on xylophone, drums, and crystal glasses, punctuates and heightens the emotion when the dialogue fails to do so. Having to illuminate both a pool and a glass tank must not be an easy task, but lighting designer Leigh Ann Vardy rises admirably to the challenge to deliver light that dances on the water.

All in all the only real problem with this show is the patchy directing, which bodes ominously for the NAC’s next season when Keiley takes over full-time as Artistic Director of English Theatre. Will she transform in her new role? Only time will tell.