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While It May Well Be Worthy of Its Mythology, 'Metamorphoses' Isn’t Quite Life-Changing -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review
Metamorphoses
by Mary Zimmerman
adapted from the classic Ovid poem of the same name
Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 6, 2013
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As someone who attends and appreciates Chicago theater as much as I do, the revival of Metamorphoses at Lookingglass seemed like a show I really shouldn’t miss.

Written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, a Northwestern University theater professor, Metamorphoses debuted at NU in 1996 (under the name Six Myths), then had a highly successful Lookingglass premiere in 1998, an off-Broadway run and a 400-performance run on Broadway starting in early 2002. It won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, earned Zimmerman a Tony for Best Direction and garnered numerous others awards and accolades.

So it stands as one of the most decorated theatrical works to ever evolve out of Chicago, and in Chris Jones’ 4-star (out of 4) rave review in the Tribune (of the current revival), he calls Metamorphoses “one of the very best products ever to be made in Sweet Home Chicago, dogs and deep-dish included.”

That Zimmerman was again directing her most famous work, accompanied by many of the original creative team and even several of the initial actors (some whom have now been replaced in the revival cast) further enhanced my sense that I should see Metamorphoses. So I was particularly glad that discount tickets have appeared on HotTix of late, and I went to a matinee on Saturday.

Problem was, despite all the exaltation, it didn’t sound like something I was likely to love. Rather than a linear, story-based play, Metamorphoses enacts a series of brief mythological tales, all of which utilize a pool of water, which I believe can fairly be called the production’s centerpiece.

I am not a huge fan of mythology and even less an appreciator of non-linear theatrical works. So given the acclaim, I was excited to experience such an esteemed work in a supposedly stellar revival, but was also somewhat wary as I entered the theater at the Water Tower Water Works. Upon doing so, I found a towel on my chair, as I was in the front row next to the pool.

Photo by Liz Lauren; lookingglasstheatre.org
To its credit, I wound up enjoying Metamorphoses far more than I didn’t. Over the show’s 90 minutes—comprising 11 vignettes, though a few are briefer interludes—I was never bored and was frequently engrossed by the myths, the actors and the water.

While my @@@@ rating (out of 5) does not match Jones’ more esteemed enthusiasm nor the work’s storied recognition, it is very much a recommendation that anyone who values unique theatrical experiences—and especially those who enjoy mythology—should definitely get to it before the revival closes on January 6. If nothing else, it seems rather likely that Metamorphoses won’t be done this well again in Chicago, at least not anytime soon.

I’ll let you reference Wikipedia for the details on the various myths that are depicted, most of which Zimmerman adapted from the epic poem Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. The same 10 actors rotate through various roles in the roster of myths, with Raymond Fox—an original cast member—rather compelling as King Midas and Louise Lammon—who was in the show on Broadway along with current castmates Fox, Chris Kipiniak and Erik Lochtefeld—was luminous as Alcyon among other characters. Anne Fogarty is another original actor returning for this revival.

Photo by Liz Lauren; lookingglasstheatre.org
And without any point of reference, new cast members seemed rather good as well, including the always stellar Patrick Andrews (who I’ve seen twice already this year), Ashleigh Lathrop  and Lauren Orkus.

As far as highly hallowed plays go, Metamorphoses didn’t hit me like some of the best, more straightforward, linear works have (Doubt, Proof, or even among those seen this year, The Iceman Cometh and 33 Variations). But that’s probably on me, based on my proclivities going in.

Yet even if I didn’t find it life changing, I now understand why Metamorphoses is so mythologized, and for folks with a bit wider palette than mine, perhaps quite deservedly so.

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