How to update a centuries-old classic? Works by Shakespeare, Aristophanes and others still stand on their own, but can reveal new truths and be made more accessible through adapting timeframe and location, mash-ups with new works, and other innovations. Some work, some don’t.
A Noise Within wins big with Metamorphoses. The Pasadena theater company takes something beloved and familiar—Ovid’s masterwork—and gives it a resonant update. It’s ambitious and audacious, having the nerve to challenge the work to prove its continued relevance and more than meeting the challenge.
This production, which incorporates an actual onstage swimming pool, was originally conceived by Mary Zimmerman in 1998; a quarter century later it still feels fresh. This Metamorphoses presents myths from Ovid with direct updates and parallels for today—and a lot of water. Ovid retold what were, 2000 years ago, already classics, and in turn inspired Shakespeare, Dante and others. In a similar manner, these retellings will inspire future generations of theater makers. As noted in the production, myths are public dreams.
Myths tell stories of changes—from human to tree, from unenlightened to painfully aware, even from alive to dead and back again. Water, too, is ever-changing: It can be refreshing and life-giving or sinister and deadly. So there’s a poetic beauty in locating Ovid’s myths in and around water, as Zimmerman envisaged and A Noise Within so spectacularly presents on its impressive thrust stage.
A full-size swimming pool covers the majority of that stage. Its water is used both literally, as the origin of life on earth, as laundry basin, ocean, the river Styx and even a swimming pool, and metaphorically, to cleanse, quench and nourish.
Metamorphoses takes age-old archetypes and the morals they represent and populates them in richly observed and deeply moving onstage (and in-pool) chapters. Nine talented resident actors take on 85 roles in six myths, including Midas (Geoff Elliott), Iris (Nicole Javier), Alcyone (Trisha Miller), Ceyx (DeJuan Christopher), Aphrodite (Sydney A. Mason), Orpheus (Rafael Goldstein) and Eurydice (Erika Soto), Lucina (Cassandra Marie Murphy) and dozens more. Many are modernized, such as blasé rich kid Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy) undergoing therapy.
All the actors excel in their multiple roles under the masterful direction of Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. All aspects of the production are top-notch, with a special acknowledgement of production manager Adam Matthew and stunning scenic, costume and lighting design by Francois-Pierre Couture, Garry Lennon and Ken Booth, respectively.
Metamorphoses runs at A Noise Within, 3352 E Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, through June 5. Show times are Thursdays at 7:30 (dark May 19), Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $25-79. There are post-performance talkbacks with the artists on May 27 and June 3 and a discussion group, The INsiders, on May 24 from 6:00-8:00pm. A Noise Within has also announced its 2022-23 season.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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