'Metamorphoses' at ASU
In 8 A.D., Roman poet Ovid completed his masterwork, the
In the centuries to follow, these ancient tales of gods and men would remain timeless, their themes and messages, namely love and change, always relevant.
Appalachian State University's Theatre and Dance Department brings new life to Ovid's work, with its production of Metamorphoses by playwright Mary Zimmerman, running Wednesday and Thursday, April 24 and 25, at Valborg Theatre.
Zimmerman's Tony award-winning play, premiered in 1996 and off-Broadway in 2001, presents classic and lesser-known Greco-Roman myths through a series of vignettes, including the stories of Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Eros and Psyche, and Narcissus, all centered on an ethereal pool of water.
The play was hailed for its scenography, specifically because of a crucial, and literal, element on stage - a pool of water.
"The water becomes the primary metaphor for change," director Dr. Ray Miller said. "I'd been particularly interested in Metamorphoses since it came out. It's excellent for a university because it deals with all the changes going on in one's psyche - Where did I come from? Where am I going? How do I know that what I'm doing is truthful to myself?"
Miller sees the play like the poem, presenting each story like stanza, using music, dance and drama, simply "because of the way it's written."
And he'll admit it's also fun to work with water, likely the first time Valborg's stage has seen anything of the kind. It's also a first for the students.
Since the pool factors into each scene, the actors had to learn staging in an approximate 2 feet of water, starting with several inches at first and gradually moving up to knee-depth. Not only that, but "how to use water, so that way water has a sound," Miller said, "so it can create the sense of battle, or even sensuality."
It also teaches students that props can become extensions of character, he said.
The profound nature of Metamorphoses' stories has provoked some of the deepest and most thoughtful conversations between Miller and his actors, many of whom see the play as an experience altogether new, and not just because of the water.
As an ensemble piece, Metamorphoses has evoked change in how the students work together.
"It's a challenge every night, but one we really love," said Samantha Corey, a senior theater and dance major, who plays Alcyone, Psyche and a narrator. "Ray did well bringing us together, because it's important we act as an ensemble, as we each have multiple characters."
Joe Watson, a freshman theater and dance major, playing Ceyx, Cinyras, Hades and a narrator, agrees. As a veteran of the War in Iraq, Watson appreciates the camaraderie and teamwork among his fellow actors, likening this support system to that of his tour.
"Through each other, we can harness the other's emotions, and, as an ensemble, that's our goal," he said. "It's an intricate show that deals with a lot of issues, stories that have been passed on forever."
And Miller has placed these in his actors' hands.
"Ray does a wonderful job, putting complete trust in us as artists," Corey said.
Rebecca Jones, a sophomore foods and nutrition major, minoring in theater and dance, plays Iris, Hunger, Baucis and a narrator. Having performed more dance than acting, Jones is enjoying the challenge of portraying a character through dance, particularly in her performance as Hunger, a spirit that sensually consumes the sacrilegious Erysichthon, played by Tim Lacroix.
"It's been more about knowing how to tell a story with my body, about being able to tap into the mental aspects of things and what these people were thinking as these stories were occurring, while changing and growing," Jones said.
For junior theater and dance major Brian Chavez, who portrays Eros, Orpheus and others, it's also been a process of discovery.
"It starts off very mournful, in a way very humbling, and it goes from bad to worse," he said. "Where you lose something and never get it back ... but you then understand and have hope.
You finally see redemption and understand why through humbleness and weakness comes strength. It's not a personal change, but rather a discovery of myself through these roles."
Chavez said Metamorphoses, filled with spoken dialogue, music and dance, is defined as a play, simply because there's no other way to define it.
"It's a living painting," he said. "You walk from one to the next, and it just comes to life."
"It's been like a real marriage between physical, mental and emotional aspects," Corey said. "Usually, it's all in your head and doesn't involve your body."
Dramaturg Paulette Marty hopes the audience becomes invested in the process, as well.
"It's been fascinating, because it's based on Greek myth, with so many themes and motifs in play," she said. "It was challenging in that way, but I think we made some great choices."
And these are choices brought to life by lighting designer John Marty, set designer Michael Helms, costume designer Sue Williams and technical director Neil Reda.
"We had a wide open swath of ideas to go from," Helms said. "The only given was the pool, but how we used the pool was wide open."
"The show is not a traditionally structured play," Marty said, "so, that opens up a lot of challenges and opportunities for how the scenes are lit. The spoken dialogue and dance offers a lot of opportunities to get away from 'realistic lighting,' offering a more visually stunning impact in the way it flows."
Though the play is cohesive, Williams said, the audience sees each story as its own segment, complete with its own look and color.
"Each of the four elements has its own scheme of colors," Williams said, "and each story is in a different time period. It's the idea that these stories are timeless, told over and over again, cropping up in culture after culture, and we're still telling them now."
Appalachian's Theatre and Dance Department will tell them April 21-24 at 7 p.m., and April 25 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for adults, faculty and seniors, and $6 for students and children, and are available at the Valborg box office, open Monday through Friday from 2 to 5 p.m., and one hour prior to each performance. Tickets can also be purchased by phone at (828) 262-3063 or online at http://www.theatre.appstate.edu/performances.
Valborg Theatre is located at 480 Howard St., behind the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. Parking is available.