Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Arsht Center: Metamorphoses (reviews)

Metamorph_170X100The University of Miami/Arsht Center production of Metamorphoses opened October 16 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

In the simple beauty of a four-foot rippling pool of water, American playwright and original director Mary Zimmerman conjures Ovid's classic myths – Eros and Psyche, Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Narcissus and more – into 11 vignettes boasting gorgeous imagery, provocative moments and breathtaking storytelling.  Miami's hottest regional theater actors join UM's talented student actors to create more than 50 characters, bringing the Greek myths to life.

Henry Fonte directed a cast that included Ethan Henry, Peter Galman, Maha McCain, Isabel Moreno, Timothy Bell, Javier Del Riego, Mary Hadsell, Annette Hammond, Emily Madden, Adam Maggio, Timothy Manion, Alanna Saunders, Taylor Stutz and Maggie Weston.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

The University of Miami/Arsht Center production of Metamorphoses is akin to a daring young gymnast attempting a difficult advanced maneuver: admirably brave, visually arresting, but not quite landing as solidly on his feet as you’d hope.

The entire evening is visually and intellectually intriguing, but strangely emotionally distant for the most part. You’re fascinated, but you don’t care about the characters except for a couple of moments.

This edition is directed by Henry Fonte, producing artistic director of the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre at UM. He never saw Zimmerman’s production and he courageously avoided every YouTube video and every word about what Zimmerman had done. While he gave his cast the script, which has minimal stage directions, he ignored most of Zimmerman’s notations other than the pool.

The result is a unique interpretation of the work, but one unquestionably just as valid. I did not see Zimmerman’s version live but I did watch it on video at the Lincoln Center library, which robbed it of much of its reported vitality. Fonte’s take seems far more accessible and humanistic.

Despite the unassailable work of professionals like Ethan Henry, several of the students are not yet up to the challenge. The dialogue cobbles together the heightened language of classical poetry and the prosaic ring of street vernacular… Ricocheting between those two modes of speech, let alone melding them into a coherent whole, is difficult for veteran actors let alone those still studying their craft. The young actors often try to compensate by overacting with overblown proclamations of their lines.

Fonte’s vision has galvanized his production team. Set designer K. April Soroko and projection/lighting designer Eric Haugen have created an infinitely malleable setting that can by a sylvan glade, a gold-lined mansion or Hades itself. Matt Corey has created yet another stunning soundscape that morphs with every scene and relies heavily on music to create varying tones. Ellis Tillman has provided a vast array of diaphanous togas and gowns.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

UM theater chair Henry Fonte has staged the production in and around the shallow swimming pool that is the centerpiece of K. April Soroko’s set... It’s a place in which sheer white curtains and sail-shaped fabric transform into gardens, palaces, star-strewn skies and more, thanks to Eric Haugen’s lighting and projections.

Sound designer Matt Corey contributes to the magic of the piece with everything from birdsong to thunderous storms. And designer Ellis Tillman mixes it up, creating some elaborately detailed costumes with vivid pops of color but largely clothing the student bodies (and grown-up ones) in off-white fabric that drapes provocatively, turning nearly sheer as the actors frolic and tumble in the water.

…the production offers moments of tragedy, joy, sorrow, eroticism, grief, horror and humor. The four adult actors deliver like the professionals they are, though Isabel Moreno, Maha McCain and Peter Galman don’t have either the focal stage time or dramatic impact of Ethan Henry, who is — by miles — the most compelling reason for theater lovers to check out this Metamorphoses. 

…the Carbonell Award-nominated actor seems to be giving a master class in how to play a variety of mythic roles filtered through a contemporary sensibility. His rich, deep voice effortlessly and clearly delivers every word of his dialogue. He mines the greed and self-delusion of King Midas as well as the addictive lust of Cinyras, whose daughter Myrrha (Alanna Saunders) is cursed with an unnatural desire for him. And when Henry plays Midas’ horror or Cinyras’ revulsion, the emotions seem utterly genuine.

The work by the UM student actors is of varying quality. Some of the breakdowns and histrionics are nothing more than over-the-top shouting, devoid of any connection to real emotion. Vocally, some of the young women sound better suited to pitching teen products on TV than playing complex roles onstage.

Still, each student achieves a memorable moment or two in Metamorphoses: Taylor Stutz as Sleep; Tim Bell as Orpheus and Annette Hammond as Eurydice; Saunders as the miserable Myrrha; Javier Del Riego as unlucky-in-love but funny Vertumnus; Tim Manion as the ravenous Erysichthon, a tyrant beset by Mary Hadsell’s unrelenting Hunger; Bell again as the amusingly spoiled Phaeton, son of Adam Maggio’s regal Apollo; Stutz and Maggie Weston as the beautiful Eros and Psyche; Emily Madden as the generous Baucis.

Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:

It’s an impressive production, this Metamorphoses playing now in the Carnival Studio Theatre at the Arsht Center and that’s what’s wrong with the show.  It’s all production and little art.

The actors thrash around in the pool to great effect (the ushers hand out large towels to front row patrons) but the inexperience of the college students and generally tepid performances from the professionals in the cast drag the long one act show to a crawl. 

But here’s the actor who made Metamorphoses worth watching: Ethan Henry with another consummate performance.   His stature, his voice, his humor, his command of the stage/pool are a delight.  None exited during his scenes, I assure you.

John Thomason reviewed for The Miami New Times:

In director Henry Fonte's treatment here, the most literal usage of the water resonates — the ravaging sea batters the ship of Ceyx (Adam Maggio), sending the god and his seamen splashing about in chaos. Then there's the slow drift of Phaeton (Tim Bell), the son of the Sun, as he relates familial angst to a therapist from a creative pool float in the shape of his father's bright-orange sphere.

But far too often, the water becomes tangential to the action, a novelty to work around.

That said, there is a lot to admire in this Metamorphoses, which correctly channels the Brechtian anti-naturalism of Zimmerman's script and the moral anchors of Ovid's original tales, with their shades of deviance, envy, avarice, inevitable comeuppance, and occasional redemption.  The myth of Orpheus (Bell) and Eurydice (Annette Hammond) is as spellbinding as ever, with or without the agua.

The rendering of Ceyx (Adam Maggio) and his wife, Alcyone (Emily Madden), is also effective, powered by the theater of mind, as we're prompted to imagine, without the aid of so much as an oar, a maritime voyage and terrifying shipwreck.

…another bravura moment from Henry, the production's most recognizable actor and a Carbonell nominee for last year's M Ensemble production of King Hedley II. Paced to perfection, as raw sexuality yields to unspeakable shame, he believably conveys abject agony in a moment that alone is worthy of award consideration.

The casting, otherwise, is a mixed bag. For the UM students, Metamorphoses is clearly an expert training ground, with its more than 50 characters and its vast spectrum of emotion and action. Not all of the actors live up to the show's dramatic exigencies, but some — notably Bell, Saunders, and Del Riego — will have no problem finding professional work when they graduate.

The University of Miami/Arsht Center production of Metamorphoses plays at the Arsht Center through October 27, 2013.

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