Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Metamorphoses

Rosemary Dunsmore, Andy Massingham, Ryan Allen, 
Rachelle Casseus (photo credit: Andrée Lanthier)

Ovid's Pool Party
by Jim Murchison 

I have been going to theatre for many years and this is the first time I have ever seen a play set around and in two large swimming pools. Bretta Gerecke has designed a set with a large wading pool downstage at floor level. A walk up the steeply pitched chrome staircases at either side of the stage takes you upstage to the deep end. The second pool looks to be about seven feet wide and deep and a great deal of the action of the play takes place in and around this level and can be seen murkily through the picture window front of the pool. Counters on each side of the chrome handrails have wine glasses and spritzer nozzles suggesting a country club fit for the gods. Behind a diaphanous curtain of water at least 10 feet high that remarkably does not make enough noise to be distracting are musical instruments largely in shadow called aquarions, along with crystal glass rims and bass drum.

The sure footed direction of Jillian Keiley allows the stellar cast to make the very challenging look simple.

Whether or not you have ever read Ovid's fifteen book epic poem of parables is irrelevant to enjoying or understanding the play. Mary Zimmerman's script blends the ethereal and the human, the magical and natural in a way that gives immediate insight into the common themes of love, lust, greed and heartache that every person endures and survives. Many of the stories will be familiar to everyone.

The cast is so uniformly good that I will only touch lightly on some of their strengths. Ryan Allen has a beautiful operatic voice and undeniable physical presence. Joey Tremblay performs physical comedy to hilarious effect in a serpentine dance as he transforms into a snake. Andy Massingham slaps the water to punctuate his points as a drunken guest of Tremblay's Midas. In another scene Alix Sideris and Massingham perform a story of incestuous desire that is equally erotic and profoundly disturbing.

Those scenes stand out because of the use of water. Outside of the water Ishan Davé performs with a cinematic realism as the estranged son of the Sun god. Petrina Bromley in the same scene performs with detached precision as the decidedly clinical therapist. David Francis is terrific in a wonderfully creative scene where he is consumed with insatiable hunger. In a scene reminiscent of Ground Hog Day Rachel Casseus loses her love over and over again with the same emotional impact. Rosemary Dunsmore is elegant, but very human even as a goddess. As a poor yet giving woman she and Francis are rewarded with eternal love near the end of the play. 

The sure footed direction of Jillian Keiley allows the stellar cast to make the very challenging look simple. To move in and out of the water, fall precisely into it and drown takes confidence. In addition to this and working up and down different levels the cast perform Jonathon Munro's beautifully supportive score live on stage. The music is like a tone poem that always buoys and never intrudes on the dramatic action. Leigh Ann Vardy's impeccable lighting adds the final effect.

We are born in water. We languish in it; love and fear it and sometimes we drown in it. As good as this production is, I feel that there will be some nights where it will go to greater magical levels because of the different chemistry of the audiences with the cast. It is likely not going to be mounted frequently because of the monumental engineering required and it is unlikely to tour so you may want to give it more than one look.

runtime: approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes
Metamorphoses runs until February 16th

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