Art ReviewsTHEATRE

Folger Theatre’s Metamorphoses Is a Wild and Wacky Trip 

The company of Metamorphoses (Photography-by-Brittany-Diliberto)

Alexandria, VA – Playwright Mary Zimmerman is a national treasure. With two productions currently running in DC theaters and last year’s Helen Hayes Award-winning production of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, her reputation in our area is firmly cemented. I’ll see anything with her name on it. You should too.

In Metamorphoses Zimmerman uses stories from David Slavitt’s translation of the Latin poet Ovid’s masterpiece written in 8 A.D. to form the foundation of this dramedy that puts these ancient myths in modern context describing the history of the world in a hilariously topsy-turvy vision of the classic.

Miss Kitty (Photography-by-Brittany-Diliberto)

Most of the vignettes here are the familiar cautionary tales of greed, lust, incest…oh let’s just proffer the seven deadly sins and call it a day. Under Director Psalmayene 24’s singularly creative interpretation we find an all-Black ensemble playing multiple parts in a flurry of costume changes to express the multiple roles each actor portrays within the individual vignettes.

Gerrad Alex Taylor and Miss Kitty (Photography-by-Brittany-Diliberto)

Psalmayene has conjured up one of the most explosive openings seen on DC stages. It is so stunning that the audience goes utterly silent. Led by the Water Nymph (Miss Kitty) the entourage parades through the center aisle, tribal dancing, whirling, summoning the Gods with African music as they arrive onstage. There they undergo an a sort of transmogrification – as captured slaves undergoing the Middle Passage from their ancestral lands. Tossed by a tempest at sea, their journey reflects the pain and degradation of a slave market. From that dramatic unveiling, our storytellers find themselves in dire circumstances humorously expressed through costume, character and morphing appearance. Because the actors play multiple parts, I found it tricky to puzzle out who played which character. That’s a testimonial to the extraordinary costume design by Mika Eubanks, who has created here some of the most beautiful, zany, over-the-top and imaginative costumes I’ve seen all year.

Manu Kumasi, DeJeanette Horne, Kalen Robinson, and Yesenia Iglesias (Photography-by-Brittany-Diliberto)

Imagine the goddess, Iris, sporting a pink Afro with a frilly rainbow-hued and ruffled tutu – another character super fly in full-on glittering gold and white and the morphing of Alcyone (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) who with her beloved husband take the form of birds, reflecting the well-known phrase ‘halcyon days”.

There’s a lot to be said for brevity when it comes to complex themes of love and loss and in these stories, the objective is clear. In each piece we meet the hapless cast of characters and learn of the hot mess they’ve gotten themselves into challenged and complicated by the muse or god positioned on high – in this case upon the balcony. The frailties and passions of mere mortals are highlighted, while the gods, busy spewing their edicts and curses, become fodder for ridicule with the moral of the story revealed after each vision quest.

DeJeanette Horne (Photography-by-Brittany-Diliberto)

The choice of Midas (brilliantly played by Jon Hudson Odom) as the opening myth, is a good one, since we all know the tale of the greedy king who wished everything he touched turned to gold unfortunately that included most his beloved daughter (Kalen Robinson). Clad in a green velvet jacket and crown, Midas rues the day he threw over his daughter for the golden touch and goes on a mission to undo the terrible curse. Odom, totally tricked out, returns as Orpheus busting Motown moves to James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)” and Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”. And, boom! We are laughing our tailfeathers off.

Metamorphoses shows that it is possible to speak of enigmatic things when they are creatively and hilariously interpreted and passionately performed by an ensemble of such high calibre.

DeJeanette Horne and Renee Elizabeth Wilson (Photography-by-Brittany-Diliberto)

Lighting Designer William K. D’Eugenio and Scenic Designer Lawrence E. Moten III have crucial tasks since there are no set changes and no curtains to draw. Along with Sound Designer and Composer Nick Tha 1DA Hernandez, ambiance is key to support the stories. And because the wigs and hair designs are so over the top, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Designer Rueben D. Echoles.

Highly recommended!

With Edwin Brown as Third Man: Phaeton and others; Dejeanette Horne as First Man: Zeus and others; Renea S. Brown as Third Woman: Myrrha and others; Yesenia Iglesias as First Woman: Aphrodite and others; Billie Krishawn as Second Woman: Eurydice and others; Manu Kumasi as Fourth Man: Vertumnus and others; Gerrad Alex Taylor as Fifth Man: Bacchus and others.

Artistic Director, Karen Ann Daniels; Choreographer, Tony Thomas; Original Composer, Willy Schwarz; Sound Designer, Nick Tha 1DA Henrnandez; Props Designer Deb Thomas; Dramaturg, Faedra Chatard Carpenter PhD.

Through June 16 at the Folger Theatre, Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC – For tickets and information visit www.folger.edu or call the box office at 202 544-7007.

Jordan Wright

Jordan Wright is a noted publisher and writer focused on food, spirits, travel, theatre and lifestyles.  Her writing can also be found on her personal website whiskandquill.com.

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