Classic Myths Are Born From A Pool For Modern Audiences – People’s World

Scene from “Metamorphoses”. Craig Schwartz

PASADENA, Calif. — “Scientific socialist” Karl Marx wrote his 1841 doctoral dissertation at the University of Jena on ancient Greek philosophical views on nature. Wanting to understand the world has always been an entirely human project. As one psychoanalyst notes, appearing on stage in a new production of Mary Zimmerman’s play Metamorphoses in a segment devoted to Apollo, god of the rising and setting sun, and his son Phaeton, “Myths are the first forms of science”, how to explain what is otherwise inexplicable.

The author adapted his version of Myths from David R. Slavitt’s 1994 free verse translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These tales of Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Apollo, Aphrodite, Ceres, as well as many less familiar characters, teem with every human emotion and every literary device. In a continuous, uninterrupted production, we find many moments of comedy, undying love, ravishing poetry, odes to the power of nature, and overall a whimsical outlook on life that is often arbitrary. , but always difficult, constantly changing.

Like the classic principle of dialectics, so many ancient myths indeed feature the idea of ​​change and transformation as their theme. Lamentation turned into song and art, the “Midas touch” turning everything to gold, unrequited love turned into a blossoming tree or a constellation, and many more examples. Wayward gods mix the lives and loves of mortals, and mere earthlings challenge the gods to their own territory and surf. “Nothing lasts,” it is declared at the outset, “but the slow parade to the underworld” – and even then, it must be admitted, the worms will have enough to eat.

River Styx. Craig Schwartz

So the setting for all the action in this piece about transformation is in, under, over, above, and beside the bubbling, flowing, soaking, drowned waters of a 580-gallon, 14-inch-deep pool. mounted on the boards where normally the actors strut around and let off steam. It’s everyone in the pool! From moment to moment, from scene to scene, the swimming pool is a sink, the Styx river, the perilous high seas. Spectators in the front row are warned of stray splashes. The pool is heated, by the way, and you can see condensation constantly rising to the surface. No need for an extra sweater or shawl in the theater, it’s pretty hot!

Is the myth still so far from our consciousness today? We don’t even need to consider Trump’s lies that are accepted and promoted by millions of Americans as fact. And American democracy? We are now more aware than ever of the fatal aristocratic biases rooted in our founding documents – the Electoral College, the makeup of the Senate, the Republican form of governance, and the devolution to individual states of essential rights such as the vote, and soon reproductive choice. , marriage rights, virtual impossibility of changing the Constitution, filibuster, how justices and Supreme Court justices are appointed, rights of nature, rights to equal representation of minority populations , the wars we wage for “freedom”. One could go on and on about the hundreds of ways in which the myth of “justice and liberty for all” still prevails, without examination or proof, in the mind of the United States. “A myth is a public dream,” says someone in Metamorphoses.

“I like big sweeps of time and place, and I like obsessive love and unrequited love,” Zimmerman says in an interview. “Water is sexy, sensual and beautiful. It replaces very literal stuff – they row in it – but it’s also metaphorical. And sometimes it’s just very, very funny.

Metamorphoses premiered in 1998 at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theater, the same year Zimmerman was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship (the “Genius” Fellowship). He then moved on to a 2002 Broadway production that won a Tony Award for Zimmerman as director, winning Drama Desk, Drama League and Lucille Lortel awards for best play at the same time. The current production of this rarely performed work on A Noise Within is superbly conducted by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott.

A “character map” in the printed program is helpful, although at first glance rather intimidating. It would seem that it does not attack six myths, as advertised, but nine. You sit and wonder, how am I ever going to be able to keep all these characters straight, with only a few names vaguely remembered from that course I took ages ago in college? Myths include Midas; Alcyone and Ceyx; Erysichthon; Orpheus and Eurydice; Vertumnus and Pomona; Myrrh; Phaeton; Eros and Psyche; Baucis and Philemon. In the end, I found that some of them kind of blend in and the less familiar names are hard to remember.

Photo by Craig Schwartz

But memorizing everything is not the goal. Myths reveal much of what is entirely human, for better or for worse, not only for the peoples of millennia past but also for those of today. The first story, for example, is that of Midas. He hears that there is a distant land, a paradise where people live forever. His first instinct is to want to invest in it, like any sophisticated hedge fund operator. In the story of Erysichthon he is warned not to cut down a tree sacred to Ceres, the goddess of grain and agriculture (from her we derive the word “cereal”), but he does it anyway, for its wood. He is cursed with an insatiable hunger, which torments him for the rest of his life. He eventually resorts to cutting off parts of his own body to satisfy his hunger. Can we not see a metaphor for the greed that is destroying our planet? A story basically about the ravaged Amazon rainforest – for the burgers!

A cast of nine resident artists takes on more than 85 roles. They include Sydney A. Mason, Cassandra Marie Murphy, Erika Soto, Trisha Miller, Nicole Javier, Rafael Goldstein, Kasey Mahaffy, DeJuan Christopher and Geoff Elliott. The creative team includes set designer François-Pierre Couture; lighting designer Ken Booth; composer and sound designer Robert Oriol; costume designer Garry Lennon; real estate designer Shen Heckel; fight choreographer Kenneth R. Merckx, Jr.; and playwright Miranda Johnson-Haddad. The production manager is Amy Rowell.

It is a rich and ancient material, the soil and the humus that we still cultivate. The water particles from this pool flowed into Homer’s “black sea of ​​wine” and when the show is over, they will end up in the next plastic bottle of distilled water you buy. The magic of the theater brings us these truths which can at the same time enlighten, frighten, comfort and give food for thought.

Metamorphoses until June 5, with performances on Thursdays. at 7:30 a.m., Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. Post-performance conversations with the artists will take place on May 20, 22, 27 and June 3 (included in the ticket price). Additionally, there will be student matinees at 10:30 a.m. on May 24 and 25. Interested educators should email [email protected]

A Noise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107. Tickets are available by calling (626) 353-3100, or you can visit the company’s website. The show’s trailer can be viewed here. A preview can be seen here.


Eric A. Gordon

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