There’s a particularly well-crafted scene in Constellation Theatre Company’s production of Metamorphoses, now playing at Source, in which the god Phaeton (Jefferson Farber) describes his tumultuous relationship with his father, Apollo (Keith K. Irby), to a therapist. The chiseled son, drifting languidly across the play’s central pool on an inner tube, recalls the familiar tale of borrowing his dad’s chariot and going for an ill-fated joyride across the sun. The therapist (Misty Demory), like the audience, is left to interpret the classic myth within a context that is both modern and ancient, the story rippling brightly from the pool’s uber-symbolic waters like the other legends the production explores.
Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE to 18 CE) produced the epic poem which translates as “Transformations” in 15 books completed in 8 CE. Director Allison Arkell Stockman‘s version of the stories, written and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman, fuses the proverbial lessons of love, grief, pride, and forgiveness with an inventive mix of colorful costumes, a lively original soundtrack courtesy of percussionist Tom Teasley, and a real 5,000 gallon pool smack dab in the middle of the stage that serves as everything from Poseidon’s stormy sea to the River Styx (if you plan to sit in the front row, you might want to grab a poncho à la the dolphin show at Sea World).
Constellation shows tend to captivate, and this performance is no different. The chameleon cast navigates the dramatic waters–literal and otherwise–masterfully. All ten actors take on several roles, among them King Midas, Pandora, Bacchus, and Narcissus, each showcasing formidable talent and range. There’s no weak link in the glinting Grecian armor here.
In fact, the whimsical togas and imaginative creatures recent Helen Hayes Award-winning costume designer Kendra Rai created arm the performers well. Who knew Hunger was a bony gremlin with dreads? Or that the path to the underworld was lined with shadowy shape-shifters? In such an intimate space, these little details make a big difference. Teasley’s sometimes haunting score, performed live from a prominently featured on-stage perch, adds another layer of distinction to the show. The Fulbright-Hayes grant recipient and State Department Cultural Envoy incorporates unusual international instruments such as a West African Belafon and a Bansari Whistle. But the real show stealer is that three-foot pool and the intricate staging that squeezes every last drop of potential out of it.
Actors rise up from unseen underwater wings. Wine-drunk gods bellyflop across the surface. Godesses are reborn. The fact that water is a nifty little symbol for everything from creation to the washing away of sins makes its prominence especially poignant. The combination of enduring stories with universal themes with such riveting production choices hits nearly all the right notes. A few of the myths are harder to follow. But all in all, Stockman and her talented team have crafted a production worthy of its lofty source material–a memorable work well worth diving into.
Metamorphoses is playing at Source through June 3. Tickets ($20-$40) are available at Constellation Theatre Company’s website.