October 5, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 50°F


Myths of the deep

A dim purple light shimmers onto the center of a pool of clear, pristine water. In the depths of the water lay two unmoving bodies. A spotlight glides to a woman sitting by the edge of the water gazing into its base. She recognizes what she sees, looks out at the audience and speaks: “Bodies.”

“Metamorphoses,” the third main stage theatrical production at Ithaca College this year, is a modern adaptation of myths and folklore originally told by the Roman poet Ovid in his narrative poem of the same name.

The play emphasizes the literal and metaphysical transformation of characters in the myths — be it through the wrath of the gods, the love of another or their own internal choices. Some characters are transformed into birds or trees, and one becomes a cannibal. The alterations of their bodies and minds exhibit the general communiqué of the production.

Written by the award-winning playwright Mary Zimmerman, “Metamorphoses” presents ancient Greek and Roman tales as short vignettes brought to stage by a small group of actors.

The tales span from King Midas and his “golden touch” to the love story of Eros and Psyche to the story of Creation itself. Each of the stories is performed in and around a large pool of water.

The pool’s function in “Metamorphoses” changes from scene to scene. It can act as something as simple as a washing basin and as deviant and sinister as the winding River Styx in the depths of the Underworld.

Contemporary characteristics in the speech and mannerisms of the characters are melded into the script. King Midas, for example, walks on stage wearing a sharp blazer holding a cell phone as opposed to brandishing a scepter and sporting royal robes.

While the script calls for a limited number of cast members to portray these postmodern and classic characters, Jeffrey Tangeman, director and associate professor of theater arts, said he decided to increase the cast size because of the level of talent that students displayed in their auditions.

“During the callbacks all these other doors of possibility kept opening with what all the students were bringing in,” he said.

Ensemble shows that place single actors in multiple roles are generally written to keep casts small and create a more intimate, unified cast experience among actors.

Sophomore Charlie Forray, one of the ensemble actors, said Tangeman’s casting choice added to the united mind-set the cast and crew possess.

“Having spread [the cast] over more people than the original book calls for, I think it added to a group mind that wouldn’t have been otherwise attainable,” he said.

Tangeman said he wanted the close-knit ensemble atmosphere akin to most shows with small casts to spread further than just the actors.

“I really wanted to get that sense of ensemble expanding beyond just the cast so that the designers and crew were feeling part of that excitement as well,” he said.

Tangeman’s vision is visible in rehearsal as actors and crew members work closely to assure everyone’s safety while working with the 1,708-gallon pool.

The pool, which occupies nearly all of the acting space in the Clark Theatre, is a vital part in conveying the show’s message, Tangeman said.

Freshman Andrew Karl, an understudy in the show, said he was taken aback when he first saw the completed pool onstage.

“It’s incredible … spectacular … I don’t know what to do with myself,” he said. “It’s visually stunning and completely theatrical.”

Senior Angelica Duncan, who plays King Midas’ daughter, among other roles, said being a part of a show that incorporated an innovative set was a rewarding experience.

“I feel honored to get to be a part of a production that’s doing something that has never been done before,” she said.

By contrasting the simplicity of water with the complex stories in the show, the cast hopes to bring the array of stories told in the play to a broad audience open to

hearing them.

Duncan said the connection people will have when watching the myths truly makes the show worthwhile.

“I honestly believe that the myths within the show are so beautiful because they are so accessible to this day,” she said.

Tangeman said using water should make for interesting interpretations of the play’s story lines.

“The whole play is about transformation — this idea of profound change in one’s life,” Tangeman said. “The idea of water being a part of that change, there’s something incredibly Zen about that.”

“Metamorphoses” will be performed at 8 p.m. today through Saturday and Thursday through Dec. 13 with matinees offered at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Dec. 13 in Clark Theatre in Dillingham Center.