Metamorphoses summary

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The Dramaturg’s Notes by Jim Riley
Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid's “Metamorphoses” is a dramatization of nine mythic tales
about the power of love. Told in the context of human history unfolding from the beginning of the world
to the present, the stories unfold through mime, dialogue and narration in the setting of an Arcadian
paradise where three sisters and a serpent guard the golden apple of eternal metamorphosis growing
by a pool of water. The water itself embodies the felt sense of different emotions as if it were one of
the characters in the play.

Metamorphoses refers to the way bodies change into different forms that express the true character of
a person. Midas becomes an ass, Alcyone a bird nesting in calm Halcyon days of winter, Erysichthon
an insatiable hunger, Orpheus a lyre, Phaeton a falling star, Pomona the fruit in season, Myrrha
incense, Psyche an immortal bride and Baucis and Philemon a pair of living trees.

The episodes are interspersed with mimes condensing time into three stages of the human story.

Prometheus and Pandora mime the early development of human metamorphosis through fire, speech,
celebration and cultivation of the land in a golden age. Next a Hercules mime in which the conqueror
of the natural world of primitive life and its mythic symbols as man cuts down the ancient
Mediterranean forests in the age of iron around the first century AD and Hercules slays Ladon the
serpent wrapped around the tree.

Between the Golden and Iron Age is Bronze Age of the Hero where the world is animated: gods, tree
spirits, dreams, rainbow, flora and fauna share a presence with man. This is the world in which the
nine episodes take place. Each mimes some aspect of contemporary life that is reflected in the
ancient myth. Midas impulsive stupidity and love of gold; Alcyone the loss of a love; Erysichthon the
frustration of insatiable love; Orpheus the power of love over death; Phaeton the love of uncontrolled
power; Pomona the love of romance; Myrrha the danger of love; Psyche the redemption of love; and
Baucis and Philemon the hospitality and endurance of love.

Finally, Aesculapius the healer with his three daughters represents the future age of healing and health,
a return to the beginning but on a higher spiral of love and understanding. He carries a staff with a
serpent wrapped around it. The three sisters mime the healing power of the serpent/staff (axis mundi)
in the episode of Eros and Psyche as they dance around the recovering girl who had doubted her love.

The prologue mimes the formation of the world seed through the three spiraling sisters (Fire, Air,
Water) on a carousel around the fixed pole of (Earth). In this unique interpretation of the Earth as male
and the Elementals as dynamic female energies of change, the mime introduces the archetypal image
of the play, the spiraling serpent around a pole.

Even in the Epilogue, Baucis and Philemon are a mime of the feminine serpent wrapped around the
sacred staff. Their request to Zeus was that they would never see each other's grave. Like an ancient
temple overrun by jungle the ancient archetypes re-appear. In the night sky of the northern
hemisphere, Draco the serpent wraps around the pole star.

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ production of Zimmerman's “Metamorphoses” is unique in the way
it uses music from Jacques Brel and Randy Newman to give a contemporary setting to Ovid's tales
and through mime show how metamorphosis is the basic dynamic pattern of all living beings.