On Tuesday, November 20th I had the privilege of attending Metamorphoses, a production of The Lookingglass Theatre, at their main stage space downtown. Since moving to Chicago in 2010 I have had the good fortune of seeing a large number of shows, including some classic Greek productions, but none of them quite compared to the wonderful experience I had on Tuesday.
Metamorphoses, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, is a play that has quite a developmental history dating back to 1989 when Ms. Zimmerman was staging a production of The Odyssey at Northwestern University during a summer program/class and she envisioned the entire production could, and in some ways should, be performed in/around a pool or body of water. Mary noticed that many stories in Greek literature and myth involved water and over the next 23 year Metamorphoses gradually became a fully realized piece being performed all over the country and garnering numerous awards, from Obie’s to Tony’s to Jeff’s, for direction, design, writing and performance to just name a few. Time Magazine called it “The Play of the Year” in 2001 when it was running in New York in off-Broadway at The Second Stage Theater. Metamorphoses is comprised of 11 vignettes based off the poem of the same name by Ovid.
Picture of the set for Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman before the show began
The picture to the let displays the performance space that the audience got to view before the show. No set pieces were flown in and only a few props were used throughout the production. For myself, and I assume the majority of the audience, the most eye-catching part of the set was the large pool of water (I estimate it was about 18’x40′) reflecting the lone chair and lights in the space. The water was of an unknown depth and with the first two rows of audience members being given black towels, because they were going to get splashed, you could feel the potential energy that the pool provided to the space. The lights then dimmed, a pre show recording played and the show began…
ACTING (Usman Ally, Patrick Andrews, Anjali Bhimani, Lawrence E. DiStasi, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Anne Fogarty, Raymond Fox, Chris Kipiniak, Louise Lamson, Lauren Orkus) : The ensemble of 10 (5M 5W) did not have a weak player among the group. The show calls for each actor to play at least one Main character in one of the vignettes as well as several supporting roles throughout the production. Each actor did a wonderful job a creating unique, passionate, tragic, comedic characters that we are all familiar with for every scene that s/he was in. Most of the characters are very one dimensional but that is the point! The energy required for the show was evident from the beginning and a testament to the physical shape that these actors keep themselves in. Often times they would be tussling, dancing, even being submerged in the water for extended periods of time while also speaking (or yelling in a, thankfully, justified way) with another actor or even narrating the scene themselves. I was continually impressed all the way up to the very end of the show.
DIRECTING: No wonder this show has won so many awards for its direction. The use of the space was absolutely brilliant, with sight lines in the 3/4 thrust being constantly cleared to assure every audience member a fantastic view of all the action taking place on stage and brilliant use of all 7 different entrance/exit points . The aforementioned actors were all managed exceptionally well to give a piece with so many different scenes a congruous overarching feel for the whole show while also maintaining the drama of each vignette individually.
SCENIC DESIGNER (Daniel Ostling): Though it is probably already clear at this point I must say it again, I loved the set. The pool was absolutely brilliant in and of itself but the deck around it was also very important. The large door, chandelier, and cloud backdrop all complimented particular scenes and never distracted from action on the stage.
LIGHTING DESIGNER (T.J. Gerckens): Mind blowingly wonderful. I could rave about the design but my favorite part was easily the use of lighting with King Midas. How do you make everything he touches turn to gold? With incredibly well focused lights that transform the stage golden yellow with his every step and a perfectly placed special that transmutes his daughter when she jumps into his arms. OK one other part, the scene with Eros and Psyche was done in almost darkness! Too many lighting designers forget about yin and yang and don’t use darkness enough. Brilliant.
COSTUME DESIGNER (Mara Blumenfeld): I will never pretend that I know anything about costumes, or clothing in general, which is kind of a bummer because it means that I have no credibility to give. The costumes were mostly classical in nature with a few modern touches here and there. Overall I really enjoyed them and was never taken out of the show by a costuming choices.
SOUND DESIGNER (Andre Pluess) with ORIGINAL MUSIC (Willie Schwarz): The music and sound of the production only ever aided the action on stage and never got to the point where it was about the sounds and nothing else. The soundtrack is available for purchase and if you have seen the show I have a feeling that if you put the music on it will magically be able to take you back into each one of the scenes as if they were unfolding in front of you again.
STAGE MANAGER (Cynthia Cahill): I really hope Cynthia was the one up in the booth calling the show the night I saw it because I know how important and amazing stage managers are. They have to deal with so many different things and I just wanted to give Ms. Cahill a shout out for never being late (at least to the point where a first time viewer of the show would notice) on a single cue, light, sound or otherwise. Thank you to all stage managers everywhere!
In summation! Go. See. This. Show. It really is a remarkable production and I am so happy that this was my first experience at The Lookingglass Theatre and I look forward to seeing many more productions in the future.