Friday, June 28, 2013

Metamorphoses in Atlanta: Theatrical Magic at Georgia Shakespeare

Psyche and Eros (photo from Georgia Shakespeare Festival promotional materials on line)
(Reflection on a production of Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman, based on the myths of Ovid. Directed by Richard Garner.  Scenic design by Kat Conley.)

Adapted by Mary Zimmerman from David R. Slavitt's translation of Ovid's two-thousand-year-old compendium of myths, this work tells familiar stories in ways that make them fresh and mysterious. 

The photo above captures one of many magical moments in Georgia Shakespeare Festival's production of Metamorphoses.  The figure of blindfolded Cupid is familiar to all of us; the story of his love for Psyche whom he forbade to see him is also familiar; but what does it mean?  To know that he is "Eros" or "love" (in the sense of soul's desire), and that her name means "soul" suggests some greeting-card sentiment along the lines, "Our souls need love".  But when we  see the story  in this lovely production, played in a pool where actors can wade or disappear, in water that can be inky black or dazzlingly reflective, performed by actors who move with solemn grace, more than our minds are engaged.   There's a logic in these myths, what Zimmerman calls "public dreams," that goes beyond logic.

The pool makes a versatile arena.  Actors emerge from the dark water, ply oars, float, splash with abandon, and disappear.   Designer Kat Conley backs the pool with a monolith that seems, by foreshortening, to loom larger than the stage.  It's a craggy cliff, or a temple, and doors in its face slide or swing to reveal gods who look down where mortals' lives are played out on land and sea.

It's part Ovid, part sketch comedy:  Apollo's son Phaeton is a preppy kid in sunglasses who just wants his dad to let him drive; the story of  Atalanta's foot race takes off on  Chariots of Fire with slo-mo clich├ęs and a parody of Vangelis's music; Bacchus is pimpin'; and the first thing Midas turns to gold is his cell phone.   When Zeus and Hermes wander the earth disguised as beggars, the world responds the way we Atlantans generally do when someone stands at an intersection with a cardboard sign, "Please help." 

The world of Ovid is remote, yet contemporary.  The title means "changes," but I come away thinking of the French adage, "The more things change, the more things stay the same."

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