Byline: Brooke Magnaghi
BROADWAY: “It’s a play that takes place in the imagination,” explains director/adaptor Mary Zimmerman of current Broadway sensation “Metamorphoses,” based on the poem by Ovid. Zimmerman read through the classical Greek and Roman stories and chose the ones she found most compelling, all testament to the cathartic power of transformation — in any incarnation. “Life,” she says, “equals change and loss; and that’s what these stories of metamorphoses are about.”
But the loudest buzz has been regarding the show’s set, which revolves around a pool. It’s a vehicle to emphasize Zimmerman’s concept: “Water transforms objects and is itself transformable.” One wooden door, a crystal chandelier and a large painting of the sky are the stage’s only other appointments.
The show itself has undergone several changes since its birth as a school production in 1996, at Northwestern University, where Zimmerman is a Performance Studies professor. From there, she took it to Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, and both the Seattle and Berkeley repertory theaters before landing in New York in mid-September.
Among the passionate stories that Zimmerman brings to life are the heart-wrenching tale of Myrrha, who falls in love with her father, Cinyras; the legend of King Midas and his pursuit of wealth, and the tragic story of Alcyon, who loses her husband, Ceyx, at sea. Despite the ultra-dramatic and didactic nature of these myths, Zimmerman allows ample room for comic relief. She gives the tale of Phaeton, son of the Sun, for example, a Hollywood twist. While decked out in swimming trunks and floating on a yellow rubber raft, the protagonist kvetches to a therapist about his relationship with his father. Phaeton wears sunglasses, of course.
Zimmerman acknowledges that performing in a pool of water presented many obstacles for the actors and costume designer Mara Blumenfeld. “Because of the water, we were limited in our fabric choices,” says Zimmerman. “We normally like to work with raw silks, but this time we had to use more durable materials to withstand the water” — heated water that is chlorinated daily. Beyond that, though, “there is a timelessness to the costumes,” says Blumenfeld. “We melded elements of the Roman era and contemporary fashion.”
“The look was abstract,” adds Zimmerman. “In the case of Midas’ daughter, we went for the archetypal Victorian girl in bloomers and a crinoline. For Midas, the idea was an all-purpose classic evening look.”
The show was originally slated for an open-ended run at the Circle in the Square theater with extended play based on demand. So far, fate’s been kind — the house is almost always packed and there are whispers of possible Tony nominations floating about town.