Lookingglass Theatre could not have chosen a better beginning to its 25th season than a remount of the masterful "Metamorphoses," director Mary Zimmerman's singular theatrical work that since its 1998 premiere has become one of the company's signature shows.
Adapted by Zimmerman from Ovid's familiar mythological tales, "Metamorphoses" marries arresting visuals with inventive storytelling in what has become a trademark of Lookingglass and of Zimmerman, whose direction of the show earned her a 2002 Tony Award.
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"Metamorphoses"★ ★ ★ ★
Location: Lookingglass Theater, Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. (312) 337-0665 or lookingglasstheatre.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 18; also 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Oct. 9, 23 and Nov. 6; 3 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 18, Nov 1 and 15
Running time: About 90 minutes, no intermission
Parking: Paid garages nearby
Rating: For adults, features adult theme, includes nudity
A spectacle in the very best sense of the word, the adults-only "Metamorphoses," is a poetic, beautifully evocative examination of love -- in all its manifestations from sublime to shocking -- and the power of love to transform, for good or ill, men and women.
The play begins with a creation myth recounting the imposition of order on unformed matter. And it concludes with a restoration of order, signified by the reunion between a father and his child. In between, over the course of a brisk 90 minutes, Zimmerman and her accomplished cast (many of whom appeared in the original production) portray with wit, humor and affection, love in its many splendid forms.
The action unfolds in and around the large rectangular pool that dominates Daniel Ostling's spare, suggestive set which features a cloudscape backdrop from which capricious, vengeful, petty and occasionally benevolent gods meddle in men's lives. A soaring double door recalls a Chicago brownstone, while the glittering crystal chandelier suspended above the pools adds a touch of elegance.
The series of transformation tales begins with King Midas (Raymond Fox), a self-made, master of the universe with no time for his daughter (Anjali Bhimani). After an irresponsible wish and an ill-timed embrace leaves his little girl trapped, the king sets off on a quest to reverse his golden curse.
We next encounter the happily married Alcyon (Louise Lamson in a ferocious, soul-baring performance) whose beloved husband Ceyk (fine work by Usman Ally) is drowned at sea in one of the show's most spectacular scenes that turns Ostling's serene pool into a storm-ravaged surf. This searing portrait of loss and grief concludes with the couple's balletic, beautifully lit (by T.J. Gerckens) metamorphosis into birds. A similar tale bookends the play whose penultimate story tells of the impoverished couple Baucis (Anne Fogarty) and Philomen (Ally) who are transformed upon their deaths into trees whose intertwining branches reflect the couple's enduring lover for each other.
A different take on spousal devotion comes courtesy of Orpheus and Eurydice whose story is twice-told here. In the first, Ally's devoted, despairing Orpheus ventures into Hades to retrieve his bride, played by Lauren Orkus, only to lose her again when he loses faith. The second, adapted from Rainer Maria Rilke's poem and taken from Eurydice's perspective, reminds us that remembering is for the living.
Comedic relief comes courtesy of Chris Kipiniak whose somnambulant god of sleep is surrounded by Z's, and Lawrence DiStasi's merry Vertumnus, who disguises himself as an old lady to win the heart of a nymph. Then there's trust-fund, prepster Phaeton (Doug Hara, appealing as Apollo's likably bratty son) who floats around his swimming pool, working through his daddy issues with help from his therapist, played with wry detachment by Marilyn Dodds Frank.
Yet, "Metamorphoses" is not all romance and laughter. There is another side to this show which alternates between fanciful and moving and dark and unsettling. Case in point, the tale of the arrogant Erysichthton (Kipiniak in a cringe-inducing turn) who finds himself caught in the clutches of Hunger (Bhimani) as punishment for disrespecting the gods. Then there is the disturbing story of Myrrha (a deeply felt performance by Bhimani whose anguish is sublime), who so angers Fogarty's Aphrodite that she curses the girl, causing her to fall in love with her own father.
Lookingglass' remount reunites Zimmerman with her original creative team including Ostling and Gerckens, costume designer Mara Blumenfeld, composer Willy Schwarz and sound designer Andre Pluess. Kudos all around, for this inspired, enduring piece of theater.