FTS Reviews: Metamorphoses, Hauck Auditorium

I told you it was coming.  Back in Fill the Steins’ preview of the School of Performing Arts’ Fall Season, I said there’d be a piece in this space on ‘Metamorphoses,’ which is now playing in Hauck Auditorium (it’s attached to the Student Union, in case you’ve never been…which you should) through next weekend.  As promised, here’s a look at this ambitious show – which is absolutely worth checking out.

First off – there is a large pool onstage.  Not like a pool for your kids or dogs in the summertime, but really: almost the entirety of the set is a knee-high pool – by my eyeball estimate, holding about 3,000 gallons or so.  (Editor’s note: way off, pal.  Try north of 8,000 gallons!) The performance happens around, in, and sometimes below the surface of the pool.  A pretty amazing feat, in my opinion.  More on the pool below.

Second, the audience sits on three sides of the rectangular pool, looking down onto the performance.  According to the program’s Director, Prof. Marcia Joy Douglas, this is thanks to Mary Zimmerman, the playwright who adapted the script from Ovid’s classic myths.  Ms. Zimmerman dictated this very specific staging for every performance of ‘Metamorphoses,’ and it’s a great vantage point.  It’s a very intimate setting for a show, and one that Hauck Auditorium hasn’t seen since ‘Taking Steps’ was performed 10+ years ago.

The presence of the pool serves many functions; it is, of course, central to the stories – Midas must wash his hands in a magical pool to rid himself of his “golden touch;” Orpheus crosses the River Styx in an attempt to bring his dead bride, Eurydice, back to life; and before Alcyone and Ceyx are reunited as seabirds in death, Poseidon wrecks Ceyx’s ship in a gale.  But beyond the physical vehicle for the myths, the pool also serves as a metaphor.  Professor Douglas summed it up as the agent of change, in a sense – the water, as does love (also entirely central to each story) – has the power to change anyone: to bring them together, to tear them apart, or to destroy someone altogether.  Even as the water looked so serene, as Prof. Douglas and I talked after the show, it still contained the reminder that in some instances, it had given life, and in others, it had taken it.

And in practice, the set works well.  Going in, I wondered about how the movement, lighting, and costumes, among other things, would be affected.  Especially with 13 actors, each playing 7+ roles in the show, and each getting pretty soaked at one time or another – it seemed like a large challenge.  In fact, Prof. Douglas confirmed that, in the early going, there were multiple editions of costumes that…well…didn’t react too nicely with the water.  But in performance, despite my wondering how the actors didn’t deliver lines through chattering teeth, it all came together.  The student actors were very concentrated, moving well in what had to have been pretty difficult conditions.  I’ll admit to losing a couple of lines here and there behind the splashing and rushing of water, but no major complaints there, as the actors often were able to bring the action right back into focus.  The stories were well performed – my particular favorites being Erysichthon and Ceres (look it up and learn something, for Pete’s sake); Phaeton (in which the son of Apollo describes his familial troubles to a therapist while lying on a yellow-swim-raft-as-shrink’s-couch in the pool – nice touch); and Baucis and Philemon, which offers a truly touching look at the power of love (cue Huey Lewis…)

The lights, in particular, were terrific.  Student lighting designer Bradley Chelberg took some great advantage of the water’s reflections and the closeness of the set to do some nice work.  (On a side note, I definitely noted some improvements in the technology in Hauck since last I worked there…  Just saying.)  That much of the production was comprised of students, including Chelberg and sound designer Jose-Luis Lopez Ramos, was “a very special and precious part” of the process for Prof. Douglas – and their work really showed.

OK, a couple more side notes about this amazing pool, learned from my post-show chat with Prof. Douglas…  Because I continue to find it fascinating.

  • The cast had the frame of the pool to work with in early rehearsals, but had to be totally “off-book” (all lines memorized) by the time the water was introduced.  Because…well, you can’t properly rehearse with soggy pages floating around, can you?
  • Given the weight of the pool and water, special attention had to be paid to underneath the stage, and no more than nine actors could be in the pool at a time.  Rules are rules, folks.
  • The show’s technicians had to figure out the right temperature for the water when it’s filled.  Because if you’ve got it full of cold water, you’ve got hypothermic actors, with all the in-and-out of the pool.  So finding the right temperature, so that 90 minutes later, the water is still temperate, was a process.
  • The techs also fill and empty the pool for each rehearsal/show.  It takes about four hours to fill…!
‘Metamorphoses’ continues its run in Hauck Auditorium this weekend.  Thursday, 11/21-Sunday 11/24 at 7:30PM with a matinee on Sunday, 11/24 at 2:00PM.  Tickets can be purchased online in advance, which is recommended, since the inventive staging only seats 90.  The show runs about an hour and a half without intermission.

Tell them Matty sent you.  They won’t know what you’re talking about, of course, but it’ll make me feel good.


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