Sage Livingstone Molasky ’22
The Pomona Theatre Department premiered Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” in the Seaver Theater on Thursday, Mar. 8 with a rather status quo bravado, directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance, Jessie Lee Mills.
Zimmermann originally wrote the play as a retelling of Ovid’s Latin Epic Poem “Metamorphoses”— her version both upheld classic tales of grief, loss, and love while exploring what change means in a contemporary framework. Mary Zimmermann garnered national recognition for her piece, which, notably, revolves around a body of water— most often, a pool— where all the lover’s tales, familial struggles and godlike apparitions take place.
Spectators might be apprehensive to attend such an evening, as all of the scenes are narrated, dialogues are scarce and dramatized monologues overlaying ensemble movement reign supreme. But what is significant about Zimmermann’s piece, despite its repetitive nature, is the liberties an ensemble might take with such classic tales and romanticized spectacle.
The set, designed by James P. Taylor, was just what you’d expect from Zimmermann’s iconoclastic tale: pool of water, pretty lights. Despite the lovely constellation of filamental stars above the stage, the only powerful lighting moments happened as the lights illuminated one by one, to open and close the play. Other than that, the lights were conventional, dimming and dawning to mark new, stagnant scenes. The costumes, designed by Angela Balogh Calin, ranged from false flowers and chiffon to beige school child frocks seemed to be pulled straight out of a middle school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The stories were told with an airy breathlessness by the three narrators, moving with a forced fragility, as if their raised arms, hair strokes, grimaces and juvenile laughter were but choreographed pantomimes. The movements from the ensemble were likewise encumbered— from odd swaying to denote the swelling sea to false fainting and palms against chests.. Only one pair of lovers shared a kiss– which, I must admit, seemed odd, and made me feel, once again, like I was watching a silly, tame middle school adaptation of a Tony award winning production.
All the monologues were either uncomfortably melodramatic, lamenting with breathy or high-pitched vocals for loved ones lost, or abruptly comical, like Phaeton’s swaggering speech atop an inflatable duck. Although the brief comedy was, indeed, a needed respite from the drudgery of false love— and excellently executed by Owen Halstad PO ’21— I found myself lost in the direction of the piece.
Although some genders were changed to include gay relationships between Pomona and Vertumnus, Eros and Psyche, and Baucis and Philemon, much of the same religious propaganda and divine masculine authority remained, thus rendering these more progressive moves as mere public pandering.
“Metamorphoses” was neither cohesive, nor challenging— not for the audience or the actors. The play didn’t provide any nuanced commentary on any problems we may face— here, at the 5Cs, or in the other communities to which we belong— and so I left, feeling uninspired by the theatre.