Entrancing storytelling by a compelling cast around a moonlit pool create a transformative experience.
It’s not often that you can delve into the underworld, the raging sea, the silent land of sleep and the strange depths of the psyche in 90 minutes. Those are just some of the places Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses”—a compilation of ten mythic stories—carries us, with modern language, humor and deep passions of all kinds. The talented cast of A Noise Within (ANW) confidently conveys us on this journey, initiating us into a mythic realm through the watery medium of a sparkling pool, under the spell of a glowing moon.
Around this serene set (designed by François-Pierre Couture, with lighting by Ken Booth, sound and original music by Robert Oriol), a dozen players—many of them ANW resident artists—morph into various mythological characters (costumes by Garry Lennon), such as a demanding Aphrodite, a hilariously greedy Midas, haunted-by-love Orpheus, and a radiantly operatic Apollo.
We also get lesser-known mythic figures such as father-obsessed Myrrha, Erysichthon cursed with hunger and spoiled lost-boy Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy)—who recounts to his therapist (Trisha Miller) from an inflatable pool chair how he insisted on taking absent father Apollo’s sun-chariot keys and ended up setting the world on fire.
Based on modern translations by David R. Slavitt of Ovid’s and other poems, Zimmerman’s characters are portrayed as people we may know. Midas (Geoff Elliott, ANW co-artistic director) strolls around his pool making deals on his cell phone while yelling at his young daughter to stop making noise with her jump-rope and ball. But in the end, it’s for her that he chooses to wander the earth searching for a pool of water in which he might wash away the pain of his avarice.
Other characters, such as Myrrha (Erika Soto), remain more in the mythic or metaphoric realm. Pushed by an angry Aphrodite into igniting her passion—represented by a glowing white ball turned pink—Myrrha becomes enthralled by her own father (Elliott). The two talented actors viscerally enact the ensuing tragedy of longing, lust and murderous violence.
All the actors similarly excel in roles that are often physically demanding, including an atmospheric fight scene in the pool (choreographed by Kenneth Merckx) depicting trident-wielding Poseidon’s stormy destruction of a ship and its crew, water furiously splashing everywhere (beware, those seated in the front rows).
And Erysichthon (Rafael Goldstein), cursed to remain forever hungry by the goddess Ceres for cutting down a sacred tree, has Hunger (Nicole Javier) literally and nimbly wrapped around his person as he insatiably searches for food.
Directed by ANW co-Artistic Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott—based on Zimmerman’s original direction—the actors are unhesitating in their emotional depictions, including well-timed humor, and they are certainly not afraid to get wet. Over the course of the production, their assured delivery—and stunning tableaus—elevate the play beyond theatre into ritual, as if guiding us through these stories into the spaces of our own souls, like Hermes leading Orpheus into the underworld.
ANW’s production of “Metamorphoses” reminds us that transformation can mean a fundamental change of form—from one way of being to another. We may experience such change all the time within our psyches, but to see our inner worlds given material form on stage is cathartic, reflecting—in a pool under moonlight—what it means to be human.
“Metamorphoses” continues at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, through June 5, with performances Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25 for adults, $18 for students. For tickets and information on talk-backs and student matinees, call (626) 353-3100 or visit anoisewithin.org. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Proof of vaccination and masks are required.