27 June 2012

Swimming in the deep end of the pool: a review of "Metamorphoses" at Playhouse on Park

Most Americans first learn about classical Greek and Roman mythology in elementary and/or middle school, and that exposure consists of learning the Greek and Latin names of the major Olympians and an episode or two about only the most familiar of those (i.e., Aphrodite/Venus almost always gets more curricular love, as it were, than Hestia/Vesta!).  Later in their educational careers, most students (I'm hoping) still encounter myths again through the drama of an Oedipus the King, Prometheus Bound, or Medea.

But the missing element in all of this exposure is the experience of raw power these myths have to convey the human experience (in all of its glorious and awful aspects).  Too often they are but quaint stories of unenlightened civilizations.  The achievement of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the remarkable First-Century BCE Latin epic "covering" the history of the world from creation to the apotheosis of Caesar, is that it explores that spectrum of humanity --- with wonderfully witty and frightening story-telling.

The superb production of Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Ovid's  Metamorphoses, running at Playhouse on Park through Sunday, 1 July, captures this same mythic power using some better-known (Orpheus and Eurydice, Apollo and Phaeton, and Midas) and lesser-known (Myrrha and Vertumnus) myths.  But so skillfully wrought are these ancient tales by the playwright, and so deftly directed by Sean Harris and acted by a multi-talented person ensemble**, that they seem as contemporary (or is it "timeless"?) as anything written yesterday.

The set, an elegant pool of water designed by Christopher Hoyt (together with lighting by Jen Philip, costumes by Erin Kacmarcik, and music by Richard Hollman), transports the audience to a place where anything can -- and does -- happen.

You owe it to yourself to take a nice long dip into our cultural past, our collective unconscious, and see who we are...still.

And tomorrow, when asked what you did last night, say, "I went to West Hartford...for the waters."

** In alphabetical order:

Amelia Randolph Campbell
David Goldman
Harrison Greene
Melissa Kaufman
Troy Peckham
Jillian Rorrer
Justin Sease
Quinn Warren
Eric Whitten
Ashley C. Williams


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