Theater Review - Georgia Shakespeare puts myths back in the pool

Metamorphoses and Mighty Myths and Legends score hits with watery sets

In remounting its 2006 production of Metamorphoses, Georgia Shakespeare brings back more than four of the original actors and director Richard Garner. The company refills the 3,000-gallon pool of water that dominates the performing space and turns out to be Metamorphoses' star attraction. The aquatic take on the timeless myths of Ovid represents such a graceful fusion of design and material that water seems like an underrated medium for a live performance. It makes you wonder why more stage plays don't employ water (not counting the Ice Capades, which use the frozen kind).

Metamorphoses presents such spectacles as a king and his sailors rowing on the sea, only to witness the wrathful forces of Poseidon rise up like humanoids from the deep. A king cursed with insatiable hunger thrashes in the pool, splashing himself in a sequence vividly symbolic of binge-eating. Forbidden lovers meet in the pool for a series of trysts — first in water that reaches their ankles, then up to their knees, and finally up to their waists, conveying the escalation of their passion.

Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Ovid guides the audience through a series of lovely mythic tales that frequently explore the fallibility and resilience of human nature. At times, Metamorphoses employs some ironic modern humor: a psychiatrist (Carolyn Cook) guides spoiled "bro" Phaeton (Barrett Doyle) through the daddy issues involved with having the sun (Chris Kayser) as your father.

The performances can sometimes feel a little too deliberate and unspontaneous. The early retelling of the story of King Midas (Joe Knezevich) featured two characters struggling to finish their sentences, gags that fell flat at the performance I attended. It's ironic that a show with a 3,000-gallon pool could occasionally feel a little dry.

The most beautiful poetry occurs in the interpretation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (Travis Smith and Ann Marie Gideon). When Eurydice dies on their wedding day, Orpheus descends to underworld to bring her back to the land of the living. The show juxtaposes two versions of material — one by Ovid, one by Rilke — to explore different aspects of unreliability and impermanence of love.

This year Georgia Shakespeare dispenses with its beloved summer repertory, but offers a family show with strong connections to Metamorphoses. Written by Garner, Seth Langer, and director Allen O'Reilly, Mighty Myths and Legends offers a kiddie-pool approach to ancient stories, and proves to have more narrative weight than family theater often delivers.

More than half of Mighty Myths and Legends come from storytelling traditions outside Greece and Rome, and proves more lighthearted and mischievous. Thor outwits an unpleasant giant, an elderly fisherman befriends a mermaid, and Anansi the trickster spider (Zuri Adele) gets a lesson in gluttony. Even at its silliest, however, Mighty Myths seems to draw inspiration from Metamorphoses' awareness of the deeper meanings behind classic tales.

Orpheus and Eurydice is the only one of Metamorphoses' stories reproduced in its entirety in Mighty Myths. Although the play is simplified and softened a bit, it's refreshing to see a show willing to take a risk with young audiences, who might believe that conflicts have no real consequences if all they ever see are happy endings.

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