Perhaps some things are best left to the gods. For real enchantment in PlayMakers' Paul Green Theatre last week, we had to wait for the opening of Metamorphoses.
Mary Zimmerman's prismatic, witty and sometimes chilling adaptation deals with but a handful of some 250 myths that made up Ovid's ancient book of changes. In this charming ensemble effort, the narrators of these 10 tales include a brace of first-century laundresses, Rainer Maria Rilke and a pair of modern lovers, with the odd psychotherapist thrown in for good measure. Their views on these subjects range from lyrical to snarky.
But as we concluded during this work's regional premiere in 2009, in most of these tales it's actually not the gods who radically alter the ones we encounter. Ovid concluded that, since we're born with a "changing nature," we tend to enact those changes ourselves, through our own emotions, drives and acts. If the gods have any hand in most of these transformations, it's usually by making unmistakable the metamorphoses that have already taken place.
Jeffrey Blair Cornell is crisp and convincing as Midas, the fated businessman. Maren Searle and Patrick McHugh find poignancy as the lovers Alcyone and Ceyx. Caroline Strange chills as the choreographed embodiment of hunger who plagues Nilan Johnson's Erysichthon. Patrick McHugh and Carey Cox inhabit multiple readings of the Orpheus and Euridice myth. If the soundscapes by Emma Nadeau and Ari Picker are more subtle than in The Tempest, they're much more effective at times, with understated simplicity underpinning the tragedies and joys.
Cox's desolation and horror in the myth of Myrrha is leavened by the awkward romance of Searle's Pomona and Brandon Garegnani's Vertumnus. Nathaniel Claridad amuses as a bratty Phaeton.
In the graceful final readings of the myths of Eros and Psyche and Baucis and Philemon, we see love inevitably endangered and just as inevitably redeemed—a warm benediction from a first-century textbook in human transformation.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The bard, the gods and a modern tragedy."