Metamorphoses reflects classic myths with modern twist

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Augustana’s Department of Theatre Arts will meld tradition with the avant-garde in its upcoming performances of Metamorphoses, a contemporary retelling of Ovid’s classic tales written by American playwright Mary Zimmerman. Performances will run Jan. 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 30 at 1:30 p.m., Feb. 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 6 at 1:30 p.m. in Potter Theatre, located in Bergendoff Hall of Fine Arts (3701 7th Ave.). This show is appropriate for high school students and older.

Metamorphoses made its debut in Chicago in 1998 with the famous Lookingglass Theatre Company.  Rather than telling one story, the play is divided into short segments, each of which portrays a different classic Greek myth. Because of the segmented structure, the actors play multiple roles throughout the show.

One of the play’s most striking features is the scenery it requires. The separate vignettes all focus on human change, which is illustrated symbolically through frequent references to water. To convey this central theme, the majority of the stage is occupied by a large reflecting pool, which serves as everything from a wash basin to the River Styx during the production.

In addition to the pool, the myths are mostly conveyed through “ensemble movement” rather than with physical props. Director Saffron Henke explains, “[With ensemble movement,] instead of putting an actual tree onstage, the actors themselves create a tree.” Although this technique is difficult, Henke says the students have risen to the challenge. “The cast has come a long way in terms of working together and creating an ensemble. They have been very willing to try new things.”

Veronica Smith, a senior from Plano, Ill., has enjoyed the new challenge of using ensemble movement on the stage. “The most challenging part of this production for me has been the extreme physicality—we are acting with our whole bodies, in many cases literally translating the text to dance. As an ensemble actor, you must be closely attuned to the other actors and the physical space in which you are working.”

Henke was asked to direct Metamorphoses after visiting Augustana to conduct a short workshop on movement for actors. An accomplished director, educator and performer, Henke currently lives in Iowa City. She has performed in more than 60 professional plays around the world and in television and film. Her directing credits include shows with the Sacramento Theatre Company, the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble.

Tickets for Metamorphoses are available at $11 for the general public and $9 for senior citizens and full-time students. Tickets may be purchased online at www.augustana.edu/tickets, by calling the ticket office at (309) 794-7306 or at the door.

Metamorphoses is the second production of Augustana’s 2010-11 theatre season, “Reflections.” At the end of April and beginning of May, the Department of Theatre Arts will perform Thornton Wilder’s classic, Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town.

For more information, contact Andrew Walter at clydeandrewwalter@augustana.edu or (309) 794-7833.