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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Metamorphoses’ sets high standard with brilliant performance

Published: November 2, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

The Undergraduate Theatre Collective struck gold with their production of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses.” Based on the familiar Greek myths of Ovid, “Metamorphoses” is presented as a series of short tales connected by themes of love and loss, among others. Directed by the talented and creative Jessica Rassp ’13, the show boasts a twelve-person cast in which no one actor can be called the lead—the 12 performers switch off in a variety of roles. Each member plays between four and five parts as the show cycles between vignettes. “Metamorphoses” is a production about human nature and it has succeeded in so many ways: the show is poignant and thought provoking, stirring up deep questions without estranging it’s audience for even a moment.

“Metamorphoses” has an inherently broad draw thanks to the familiarity of the tales in which it deals. Of the 10 vignettes, there was not a single weak link. Particularly stirring was the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, starring Steven Kline ’14 and Rachel Benjamin ’14 in the named roles. The myth presents itself in multiple perspectives, telling slightly different versions of the story and finally culminating in an a capella and dance performance that captured the essence of the story in enormous beauty. Kline and Benjamin also performed particularly admirably in their roles as Midas and a dark, incest-inspiring Aphrodite, respectively.

The tales, though maintaining similar themes, often had drastically different tones, ranging from the tale of Alcyone (Rebecca Miller ’13) and Ceyx (Ray Trott ’16), the tale of a perished sailor and his wife who are reunited as birds, to the incredibly dark story of Myrrha (Grace Fosler ’14), a girl cursed by Aphrodite to lust after her father, with an amazing performance given by the titular actor. Equally captivating in its darkness was the story of Erysichthon (portrayed impressively by Ben Lewin ’16). In this particular story, Erysichthon was cursed with an insatiable hunger, personified by Mira Chakin ’14, who danced across the surface of the stage and clung to Lewin throughout his tale. The dark performance ends with Erysichthon turning to his own flesh for sustenance, and both actors carried out this horror with great skill. There was not a single weak performance among the entire cast, and each character was distinct, relatable and ultimately human, despite the mythological source. In truth, each and every story and every individual performance, could be extolled at great length, as each showcased incredible acting ability and beautiful direction.

One particular element that truly enhanced the overall experience of “Metamorphoses” was the addition of music and dance. The show made ample use of the vocal talents of its performers, adding original a cappella musical numbers that were a great enhancement to the stories themselves. In addition to facilitating an even more intense emotional connection with the audience, the creative twist allowed “Metamorphoses” to stand out not only from the majority of Brandeis productions, but also from other productions of the same show. “Metamorphoses” is a show that truly defies categorization, and that status only served to make an already deep and emotional show all that much more effective.

Another aspect of “Metamorphoses” that helped lend the show its incredible strength was the use of set and costume. Conceptually, one of the major ties between the themes of the vignettes is water, recurring both literally and symbolically throughout the show and apparent in the structure of the show itself: It is set up as a series of stories told by washerwomen at the stream, and water features heavily in many of the stories themselves. In traditional showings, “Metamorphoses” is meant to be performed entirely in a pool of water. Without this option, the creative minds behind “Metamorphoses” turned to some unique and effective solutions, such as utilizing a sunken pit of blue sand in the center of the set to portray this important element. The set as a whole was similarly successful, a simple but well-designed set up that created a strong sense of place in which the stories could unfold. It also made creative use of silhouette: certain climactic moments—such as the well-known moment in which Midas turns his daughter to gold—happen behind a backlit screen.

The production of “Metamorphoses” has proven itself a great gem of Brandeisian theater. With an amazing talented cast, production staff and crew, the entire performance came together in a moving and poignant piece about love, loss and human nature. The remaining performances may well face a challenge in standing up to such an outstanding production.