Athena Theatre has undertaken its biggest challenge yet in staging an Equity waiver production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses.

Zimmerman’s play reimagines a number of famous myths in an aquatic setting.  There is Midas, whose love for gold robs him of his most precious possession, his daughter; lovers Alcyone and Ceux, who perish in the ocean and are then transformed by the gods into birds; King Erysichthon, whose cutting down of a sacred tree causes him to be cursed with insatiable hunger; Orpheus, who travels to the underworld in hopes of being reunited with his deceased love Eurydice; Pomona, who marries Vertumnus after tricking her into believing that he was an old woman; and others…

As proven by Athena’s most recent production (Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls), Co-Founder and Producer Veronique Ory knows how to surround herself with some of the finest design talent around. Metamorphoses features an inventive set by Sefan Depner, some beautiful lighting effects by Johnny Ryman, imaginative costumes by Kaori Mita, and an effective sound design by David Marling.  Especially significant among the design elements are an exquisite original musical score by Andrew Edwards and a striking projection design by Eric Silva.

Director Patrick Varon, who did a fine job with Athena’s last production, Pterodactyls, returns to helm Metamorphoses, and his cast of eleven do mostly good work here.  Each appears in one major and several additional roles.  They are Brett Aune (Vertumnus), Sally Conway (Alcyone), Robin Daléa (Nursemaid), Sara Beth Lane (Aphrodite), West Liang (Orpheus), John A Lorenz (Phaeton), Billy Mayo (Erysichthon), Ory (Eurydice), Guy Perry (Hunger), Gugun Deep Singh (Midas), and Tania Verafield (Myrrha), with Aune, Conway, and Liang (shown above) being standouts.  

Most striking in this production is the movement design by Adria Dawn, performed with uniform grace by the cast.  In one particularly haunting sequence, Mayo as Erysichthon is overcome (literally) by Perry as hunger, clinging to Mayo’s back as the King is unable to feed his insatiable appetite. 

It was Athena’s original plan to fill an onstage pool, central to Depner’s set design and Zimmerman’s script, with 3000 gallons of water, however this proved too risky to the Lankershim Arts Center.  Reviews of the previous L.A. production of Metamorphoses at the Mark Taper Forum have described the crucial importance of water to Zimmerman’s play, calling it “essential” and “the physical and emotional center of the show.” At the Taper, characters were said to  “swim, float, splash, thrash, drown, paddle, bathe, fight, make love, wash their clothes, study their reflections, and, in general, spend most of the evening sopping wet.”  Here they remain dry throughout and the pool remains empty.

The creative talent who put together Athena’s production of Metamorphoses are to be saluted for making the best of an unfortunate situation.  Still, performing Metamorphoses on a dry set is akin to staging a Broadway musical without an orchestra. Something vital is missing, and its lack proves significant.

Nonetheless, this production is proof that “the show must go on,” and cast, creative team, and crew are to be commended for their passion for the project and some very effective and powerful moments of beauty and grace.

Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
July 10, 2008

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