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In the Wake of Irene, Greek Tragedy Fits the Playbill

State of the Arts

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Metamorphoses cast
  • Metamorphoses cast

In the ancient Greek myth of Alcyone and Ceyx, the latter, a king, kisses his wife goodbye and goes off to sea in search of a distant oracle. Poseidon, that tempestuous god of the sea, destroys his ship, and Ceyx dies. Day after day, Alcyone stands by the shore, awaiting his return.

When Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses first opened in New York City, it was less than a month after September 11, 2001. Suddenly, her version of the myth, based on verse written thousands of years ago by Ovid, took on new meaning. Ceyx’s plea to the gods, just before he drowns — “Just let my body be found” — touched a nerve with audiences in the Big Apple’s Second Stage Theatre. “Every night you could hear the sounds of men and women openly crying,” wrote a New York Times reviewer.

Almost exactly 10 years later, Lost Nation Theater’s Vermont production of Metamorphoses may be emotionally hard hitting in its own way — in the context of Tropical Storm Irene. More widely recognized as “that play with the swimming pool,” Zimmerman’s retelling introduces a physical body of water onstage as a metaphor for the central theme of change. Little did LNT’s directors know, when they laid plans for this production more than two years ago, that a storm would bring more water, and change, than Vermont could have anticipated.

“I’ve been feeling pretty lucky and privileged to be living in this ... area of the Northeast, and [then] this huge storm comes along and reminds you you’re not exempt,” says director Kim Bent, also LNT’s founding artistic director. That twist of fate — or Fates — is all too common in Greek tragedy. “That’s the wonderful thing about these stories,” Bent continues. “[They remind] you of your relationship to the divine and the elemental.”

Because, as Bent points out, “It’s really not practical to have a pool here in City Hall,” Metamorphoses was already going to be performed sans swimming tank well before flooding from Irene took center stage in the public mind. Clay Coyle’s intensive set design — in which aerial acrobats twirl in flowing silks suspended from the ceiling amid a wash of blue and green lighting — creates the illusion of an ever-present pool, but the absence of a real one may be for the best. “At this point, people would be pretty sick of looking at water,” Bent conjectures.

Though the eight vignettes presented are indeed tragedies, their representation of transformation, love and death is ultimately uplifting, says Bent. “This is one of the most magical scripts out there that you could possibly choose to do,” he opines.

Elements of Metamorphoses do seem downright otherworldly. Suns, moons and stars dance in the beginning sequence called “Cosmogony,” or creation of the world; characters transform into birds and fly away; and a haunting original score by Nicole Carroll and LNT producing artistic director Kathleen Keenan makes music out of spoken text. But the play is very much about intense human relationships, and Bent says it fits LNT’s mission of delivering shows that offer a “hopeful vision about the nature of being human.”

“It seems like a very good time to do a play that focuses on stories that help us to see the bigger picture,” adds Keenan. “It’s a show that helps put things together. And it’s a love story. Who doesn’t want to see that?”

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