Like Ovid’s original collection of myths, Mary Zimmerman’s beautifully elegiac Metamorphoses defies categorization. Zimmerman’s series of transformative tales are presented in something of a Reader’s Theater style, but to pigeonhole the work into so narrow a definition is to do the play a grave disservice. Director Kira Hawkridge has embraced the fluidity of Zimmerman’s work and stretched the boundaries of both the script and the playing space in Out Loud Theatre’s current showing. Taken piecemeal, these individual myths are gorgeous and entertaining, but this succinct epic is a complete cycle, constantly referring back to itself and infused with the idea that love is the most transformative power of all.
The compact space of Artists’ Exchange 50 Rolfe Square is a challenge for any director, but Hawkridge has seen it as less of a challenge than an opportunity. The audience can easily be outnumbered by the sizeable cast and attendance bestows a certain responsibility (especially in the front rows) as the players inhabit every inch of the room, inviting us to silently become part of their universe. That universe is ascetic, at first – a bare room barely illuminated by strands of bulbs hanging overhead – but as the players enter, fashioned as vagabond travelers in ragged layers of brown and black, a ladder and the touch of a final bulb brings to life Cosmogony, the tale of the creation of the universe.
Things move quickly from here on in as the tale of Midas takes over in what becomes the play’s arc of redemption. Alan Hawkridge is magnificent as the rapacious hypocrite who tells us that “family is everything” while constantly shushing his lively daughter. And though we know what is to happen, the tragedy is no less heart-wrenching as she is turned to gold with a leap in his arms. The symbol of a gold piece of rope is complemented by the brilliantly designed costuming. As the layers of brown and black are shed with each tale, softer tones of beige and grey appear, and Midas’ daughter’s dress is gold by degrees, blending in with costume designer Alex Maynard’s overall palette. Midas’ own costume is subtly adorned with found pieces of hardware, lending a modern, industrial edge to the soft fabrics of the entire wardrobe.
We move from Midas through a series of tales speaking of the power of love to transform man’s baser natures. Original recorded music by Chris Korangy and Mark Tiberiis blend with live sounds on percussive instruments. Individual lines in Zimmerman’s script are taken up by the players in choric fashion and bodies are constantly in motion, creating walls both literal and metaphorical. The overall effect is a delicious wash of sound and image, like the pull of a tide, that could come across as earnestly collegiate if not executed so deftly by Hawkridge and her cast. Her gamble with the small space pays off as moments where the players join as one to warn and beseech are inches away, making us palpably afraid at times. In a bigger room or a traditional proscenium stage, these moments of studied blocking would seem almost disingenuous. Here, these collective group images are the centerpiece of a play that has just as many moments of individual grace. Sarah Leach and Lauren Ustaszewski are particularly compelling in their pieces and Aubrey Dion delivers a hauntingly beautiful ode to death that brings proceedings to a quiet halt for one bewitching moment.
As life is transformed into death, it is, of course, love that is the moral of all the stories. “The soul wanders in the dark until it finds love,“ we are told as the final tale of Baucis and Philemon makes way to the resolution of Midas’ tragedy. That resolution is almost vague, a pagan image seen in the periphery, but all the more resonant for its lack of pretension and the choice to not button the ending too neatly. The play does not end so much as it continues elsewhere, the players acknowledging the moment and moving on to continue their tale. Midas will transform again and again and his touch is a warning to us all to value love and life over the transitory aspects of this world. Out Loud Theater imbues its spirit into each of its productions and Metamorphoses is their calling card.
Out Loud Theatre presents Metamorphoses, by Mary Zimmerman at The Artists’ Exchange, 50 Rolfe Sq, Cranston. Tickets are $15 ($12 Students with ID). Through Saturday, October 4th at 7:30pm. For more information, call 401-490-9475 or email email@example.com