Mary Zimmerman’s Magical Mystery Tour of Myth Returns
by Kim Waldron
“All magic is about transformation,” master illusionist Eugene Burger once said. Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” is all magic, a series of beautiful experiences, sometimes hilarious and open, sometimes cutting, and sometimes just at the edge of comprehension.
The tale of Erysichthon proved to be the audience favorite. Greedy Erysichthon, a macho entrepreneur with muscled arms, scorns the gods and decides to clear cut a forest dear to the goddess of crops and fertility, Ceres—including her most favorite tree. Unlike Congress, Goddesses don’t mess around and the selfish man is cursed, beset by the demon Hunger who leaps onto his back and rides him hard.
I grant you it doesn’t sound that humorous, but from its fairy tale start to its grisly end, it is, of all unexpected things, fun. Sango Tajima, as Hunger, terrifies us, as she creeps about in horrifying devilish form (Costume Design by Mara Blumenfeld). As Erysichthon, Steven Epp, at first arrogant then ravenous, raves and splashes wonderfully in his outrage.
Poet Ovid, mocking as he is smart and bawdy, uses sly humor and psychology to beguile us. With her own sharp, droll wit, writer and director Mary Zimmerman performs a transforming enchantment on his ancient Roman epic. An update here, an aside there, and ancient myths live in our times: that clear cutting businessman for example, or a father too distracted to pay attention to his family, or a teenager trying to be cool. Rodney Gardiner’s teen Phaeton is a stand out, by the way, as he floats on an air mattress in the giant pool, complaining to his therapist about his absent Dad, the Sun.
The characters start more archetype than human, but the super-talented cast find their own magic to breathe personality into each god and human.
While Ovid wrote as much of soul as love, Zimmerman focuses on the necessity and force of love. Myth follows myth, fragments of stories roll in with the action sometimes realistic, sometimes dream-like, but always we see a tale of change, perhaps of becoming or perhaps of ending.
Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling provides us the large pool of water that fills center stage surrounded by a walkable wooden deck, with a simple backscreen of blue sky and clouds and a giant crystal chandelier. A raised platform that overlooks the pool, serves as home for the gods.
The occasional eye-catching prop, like teen Phaeton’s vivid yellow air mattress, spices the proceedings. Zimmerman’s movements mesmerize us throughout: in the creeping and mad grip of the Hunger demon, the ravenous Erysichthon’s wild grasping, or the trance-like walk of Orestes, Eurydice, and Hermes in the Underworld.
“Myths are the earliest form of science,” says one of the narrators early in “Metamorphoses.” At the end another says: “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” Some things, then, are explained by the head, while others are only understood through the heart. Ovid and Mary Zimmerman school us on these truths at Berkeley Rep; the lessons will delight you.
“Metamorphoses” –based on the myths of Ovid, written & directed by Mary Zimmerman, from the translation by David R. Slavitt, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, through Sunday, March 10, 2019. Info: berkeleyrep.org
Cast: Steven Epp, Raymond Fox, Rodney Gardiner, Benjamin Ismail, Louise Lamson, Felicity Jones Latta, Alex Moggridge, Sango Tajima, and Lisa Tejero.
Banner photo: Benjamin T. Ismail, Suzy Weller, and Louise Lamson. All photos by Kevin Berne.