Broadway has often been compared to a theme park, but it’s never had a water ride before. Enter Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses,” the Off Broadway hit from last fall that has made a nicely fluid — excuse the expression — transition to the Circle in the Square.
The show was one of the first to open last fall in the wake of the terrorist attacks, and its tales of resurrection and enduring love had a powerful resonance that fueled both critical and public responses. But a second viewing, in a less fraught and frightening atmosphere, reveals that the show’s appeal wasn’t merely circumstantial. It’s surprising to discover, actually, that such stories only make up a small portion of a show that offers an ample range of pleasures.
As the city’s citizens continue to contemplate the terrible events of the fall, there may still be quiet solace to be found in, for example, the tale of Alcyon and Ceyx, lovers who are separated by death but reunited by the gods in the afterlife, as birds of the sea. But other appealing elements now hold their own alongside the moving felicity of some of the work’s themes.
The sometimes troublesome configuration of the Circle in the Square proves a rare perfect match for Zimmerman’s production. The stage — a big wading pool surrounded by a slender rim of wooden deck — fills the theater’s thrust space neatly. As the gods and mortals frolic and fight in the knee-deep water, the first few rows get a good dousing now and then, much to the delight of the audience members out of the spritzing zone (and, it seemed, to most of those in it, too).
Like the splash factor, the production’s comic tone has been punched up subtly to fill the larger space. The blunt tone of the humor — “That’s a really, really bad idea,” says Bacchus to King Midas when the latter makes his request for the famous golden touch — strikes a contemporary chord, and it is delicately blended with the earnest, more faux-classical sound of much of the narration.
Although Zimmerman’s productions have mostly been seen at regional theaters, her respectful, clear and theatrically inventive approach to classical texts is well-suited to popular audiences looking for something more adventurous (if ultimately no more intellectually demanding) than most Broadway fare.
“Metamorphoses,” indeed, provides a nice package of simple pleasures that are increasingly hard to find, together or separately, on or Off Broadway: good stories well told, an elegant structure, handsome designs (from both set designer Daniel Ostling and costume designer Mara Blumenfeld), a sprinkling of poignancy, a dash of uplift, a few hearty laughs. (Doug Hara’s turn as the bratty son of Apollo, whose rubber raft doubles as an analyst’s couch, is still the choicest comic showpiece.) There’s also a bit of beefcake and a smidgen of sex, but not enough to make the show off-limits for most kids; in fact, Zimmerman’s “Illustrated Classics” aesthetic is an appetizing alternative to Broadway’s more sugar-rich family fare.
Those looking for a more substantive appreciation of Ovid’s poetry will undoubtedly find her attitude too cute, but Zimmerman and her collaborators understand classic stories don’t need much seasoning to retain their flavor. Her savvy recipe might be summed up thus:
1) Take assorted myths.
2) Add water, gently stir.
3) Garnish with pretty pictures — and pretty faces — and serve.