Upon entering Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre, one particular set piece will catch your eye: the pool in the center of the stage. The pool tells its own story — its sheer magnificence is an indication of what’s to come in “Metamorphoses,” a modern adaption of Ovid’s myths.
The Mary Zimmerman play was directed by Jessie Mills, the new assistant professor of theatre and dance at Pomona. The play’s use of mythology highlights a universal theme — how human beings use stories to explain and understand the world.
In the play, mythical figures, humans and nature all interact with each other. As the event listing on Pomona’s website states: “Through vignettes, ‘Metamorphoses’ shares in the humor and pathos of falling in love, despairing in loss and discovering our deepest capacity for change and transformation.”
The first vignette of the play tells the infamous story of King Midas, the greedy king who wishes for Bacchus, the god of wine, to give him the golden touch, making everything he touches turn to gold. When his daughter jumps into his arms and turns to solid gold, Midas pleads for his wish to be reversed. The magical presence of the character “light” is palpable here, as objects of the set and parts of the stage glow gold when touched by Midas.
In the myth of Orpheus (Jonathan Wilson PO ’19) and Eurydice (Olivia Silva SC ’21), the newlyweds are separated by death, and when Orpheus has the opportunity to save his beloved Eurydice, he can’t follow the one condition given to him by the gods of the underworld: not to look behind him as he leads her out of the underworld.
The characters in “Metamorphoses” aren’t characters in the traditional sense. They don’t have a story arc or recurring narrative; instead, they are representations and archetypes that act as storytelling components. The cast and crew expertly portray the myths through a range of technical and physical theater techniques, including movement, speech, tableau and lighting.
Rebirth and reincarnation, synonyms for metamorphosis, are present themes throughout. Characters in the stories transformed into new shapes, and the actors themselves returned to the stage as new characters altogether.
“I thought the writing was really good and poetic,” attendee Jubilee Lopez PZ ’19 said. “I’m a sucker for narrators and I really like when there’s narrators to contextualize everything, and I thought the narration was really beautiful.”
Lopez was referring to the three narrators, GiGi Buddie PO ’22, Hershey Suri PO ’21 and Sara Acevedo PO ’21, who were on stage throughout the entirety of the production, taking the audience through myths by speaking, singing and moving around the water in Siren-like synchronicity.
“It felt like every [scene] was teaching a different lesson,” Lopez said.
Of course, the pool also served as a central part of the play. The set and lighting were their own characters, and the actors splashed, bathed and floated in the water while light washed over them. The symmetry and grace of the set and the choreography juxtaposed with the chaos, disorder and pain of life that the vignettes painted.
Throughout the play, the stage, actors and pool of water glowed gold, and at other times dark and ominous, like when Poseidon (Sam Clague PZ ’21) claimed the lives of sailors during the tragic tale of Alcyone (Shringi Diva Vikram SC ’20) and Ceyx (Owen Halstad PO ’20).
The set became darker when lovers were torn apart by the wrath of the sea god, or when Hunger (Claire Pukszta SC ’19) became personified and drove Erysichthon (Alex Collado PO ’20) to eat his own foot as a punishment for cutting down a 300-year old tree.
Attendees said the use of lighting was thoughtful and unique.
“I thought the lighting was really beautiful — the lightbulbs up above, and how they went off and on,” audience member Eva Wertimer SC ’20 said. “It gave the show a cyclical feel, or a cyclical symbolism, which I thought was really beautiful.”
Anna Horton PZ ’19 appreciated the interplay of drama and comedy, and said that the use of ancient myths to tell modern stories “grounded [the play] in a more contemporary moment.”
Wertimer recommended the production to everyone.
“Even if you don’t like theater, and you just like stories, it’s worth [seeing] because it’s almost like watching a dance with a distinct narrative,” she said.
“Metamorphoses” has four more shows this weekend: 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday.