Changing, changing: METAMORPHOSES at PlayMakers, in repertory with THE TEMPEST

Stories of metamorphosis abound in every culture; our changing bodies and changing desires have caused them to arise in the human mind since the beginning. Anyone raised in Western literary culture will have been exposed since childhood to the stories of strange and wondrous changes collected by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-18 AD) from all the Greek and Roman sources available to him and collated into 15 books of poetically flowing story, Metamorphoses. The stories explain things, like the existence of spiders; or lay out the consequences of behaviors like greed, incest, hubris or self-absorption; they offer consolations against the griefs of life. Ovid has been a source for writers as diverse as Shakespeare and the forgotten scribes of children’s early readers.

Arachne could weave even more beautifully than Athena, shown here disguised as a crone, preparing to turn Arachne into the first spider for that insolence. From the 1928 children's compendium, Book Trails. The story appears in Book VI of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Arachne could weave even more beautifully than Athena, shown here disguised as a crone, preparing to turn Arachne into the first spider for that insolence. From the 1928 children’s compendium, Book Trails. The story appears in Book VI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

More recently, the playwright, director and MacArthur Fellowship winner Mary Zimmerman raided Ovid’s trove for her 1998 play, Metamorphoses. She chose just a few of his stories to enliven onstage, and augmented them with related material from other sources (poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke; the story of Eros and Psyche, which does not come down via Ovid), creating a theatrical experience that mimics the carefully crafted flow of Ovid’s work, in which each story has some connection to those on either side of it.

In Zimmerman’s work, water, that great signifier of formal fluidity and agent of change, is a central element, and water there is—a great pool taking up much of the stage–at UNC’s Paul Green Theatre, where PlayMakers Repertory Company has mounted Metamorphoses. Co-directed by PlayMakers’ Joseph Haj and visiting master artist Dominique Serrand, Metamorphoses is playing in rotating rep with The Tempest through Dec. 8.

The ensemble in PRC's METAMORPHOSES. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

The ensemble in PRC’s METAMORPHOSES. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

PRC has production capabilities far outstripping all other theaters in the area, capabilities created and supported by the company’s role in the teaching programs of the Department of Dramatic Art. Every production at PlayMakers is a learning experience for both acting and theatre-tech students, and they supply a huge labor force while learning. For a show involving water on stage, with actors continually getting in and out of it, backstage work increases exponentially; for two alternating shows in which actors and their clothes must be dried before their next entrance, a backstage cast of thousands and many flow charts (pardon the expression) are required.

Julia Gibson as the psychologist, Gregory DeCandia as Apollo, and Nathaniel P. Claridad as Phaeton. Ari Picker on guitar. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

Ari Picker, guitar; Julia Gibson,  Gregory DeCandia, and Nathaniel P. Claridad, during Phaeton’s tale.  Photo: Michal Daniel/ PRC.

Carey Cox in the rain, with Nilan Johnson and Nathaniel P. Claridad, in METAMORPHOSES. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

Carey Cox as Eurydice in the rain, with Nilan Johnson and Nathaniel P. Claridad, in METAMORPHOSES. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

But one does not think about that while the stories unfurl and float away through the dark sea of mythic consciousness. One may think about time, or timelessness, or how much we are the same as the men and women who lived thousands of years ago and generated these mythic tales. One may be pierced or pinched by them to tears, so vivid are the stories and so exact their parallels to personal experiences. Just in case someone might have missed their relevance to contemporary issues, Zimmerman inserted a note-taking, jargon-speaking psychologist (well-played by Julia Gibson) into the story of Phaeton (Nathaniel P. Claridad) crashing and burning after taking his father (Gregory DeCandia) Apollo’s sun chariot for a disastrous spin. The script makes this a funny story, but most of them are not–though several do have happy conclusions. There’s not anything you can do to alleviate the pain of Orpheus, who just can’t not look back. But there is a kind of joy in the metamorphosis into seabirds of the grieving widow and her drowned husband, and celebration when Midas after much travail loses his golden touch and regains his live daughter. The great stories to live by are saved for the end, and by the end on opening night, the cast, most of whom are first and second year MFA students, had lost their initial stiffness and gotten into the rhythm (many of these actors also play in The Tempest which opened the night before, so some transitional moments can be forgiven). Both the story of Philemon and Baucis, an old, poor, couple who give hospitality to strangers, and thereby entertain the gods unaware; and the story of Eros and Psyche divided and reunited, are beautifully played. It’s wonderful to see these ancient myths brought to new life in young bodies, and to be reminded of  how, always changing, we never change.

Brandon Garegnani and Arielle Yoder as Eros and Psyche in the PRC production of METAMORPHOSES. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

Brandon Garegnani and Arielle Yoder as Eros and Psyche in the PRC production of METAMORPHOSES. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

As satisfying as Metamorphoses is, the companion production of The Tempest is even more fulfilling. My review was published Nov. 8, 2013, on Classical Voice of North Carolina, with the title “A Lucid Storm: The Tempest at PlayMakers.”

Julie Fishell as Prospero and Maren Searle as Ariel in PRC's new production of THE TEMPEST. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

Julie Fishell as Prospero and Maren Searle as Ariel in THE TEMPEST. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is one of his most delightful plays, and not only for its many pleasant aspects. A story’s told from start to finish, and in it wrongs are righted, men better themselves, and a love match is made. Spirits and monsters can be seen and heard. There are ridiculous pratfalls and tender revelations. There’s music, and language that could be called the same. But no matter what interpretation du jour is laid upon the script, the play’s meditation on the magical power of words and stories to create and shape life is what makes it so engaging each time one sees it, and so worthy of seeing again and again.

The young lovers Miranda and Ferdiand, played by Caroline Strange and Brandon Garegnani. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

The young lovers Miranda and Ferdiand, played by Caroline Strange and Brandon Garegnani. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

PlayMakers Repertory Company has just opened a refined and visually-lovely new….READ THE REST ON CVNC HERE.

Wonderfully comic Julia Wilson as Stephano, with Jeffrey Blair Cornell's Caliban and John Allore's Trinculo under the blanket, in PRC's THE TEMPEST. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

Wonderfully comic Julia Wilson as Stephano, with Jeffrey Blair Cornell’s Caliban and John Allore’s Trinculo under the blanket, in PRC’s THE TEMPEST. Photo: Michal Daniel for PRC.

Tearing it up in Raleigh with the GOD OF CARNAGE

Do not miss God of Carnage, continuing this week, June 26-30, at Theatre Raleigh|Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy. That is, unless you just cannot bear to watch civility unmasked and shredded by four first-rate actors in an extended one-act of slashing brilliance. In Yasmina Reza’s painfully humorous 2006 play (translated from the French by Christopher Hampton), two sets of parents meet to discuss what needs to be done about the son of one pair bashing the son of the other couple and breaking out two of the kid’s teeth. What starts with conciliation destructs into a feral confrontation as Grown-ups Behave Badly. You may leave the theater feeling you’ve witnessed a kind of prelude to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

L to R, Fishell, Ivey, Tourek and Marks, the cast of GOD OF CARNAGE. Photo courtesy HSNK/TR.

L to R, Fishell, Ivey, Tourek and Marks, the cast of GOD OF CARNAGE. Photo courtesy HSNK/TR.

The scene takes place in Veronica (Dana Marks) and Michael (Michael Tourek) Novak’s apartment, which is worth a little description. Designed (along with the lighting) by Chris Bernier, the set gives us a self-consciously cultured yet barren living room. Bright pillows form a casual row along a pale couch, in front of which a sleek modern table supports carefully arranged piles of large books. There are more on the floor and near a severe side table holding a glass vase of tulips. On the opposite side of the couch, a similar table holds a matching vase and flowers, and a drinks tray. Two white and chrome side chairs sit on a dark red rug; behind the couch rises a tree of life, a relief form in a multi-paneled wall-size artwork, also dark red. There’s not one sign of actual life (children live here?): It all looks as if it belongs in a home furnishings catalog, aspiring hip bourgeois variety.

Veronica and Michael have just been joined by Annette (Julie Fishell) and Alan (Derrick Ivey) Raleigh, and its clear from the first instant that they come from a different, and rather more moneyed, tier of the class cake. But class is just one of the strings Reza pulls to effect the unravelling that takes place over the show’s hour and a half. Gender issues and marriage issues get their due, but at the core, the question for each character is, what values do you hold when irritation and rage have swept aside all the mannered overlays? The construct of the play has each character flipping back and forth between civilized control and savage self-assertion, the pace building to frenzy. Each of the actors here has the power and the timing to pull it off, and at one level the production satisfies simply because it is a pleasure to see actors exercising their craft so well. Julie Fishell (as she did in last year’s August, Osage County at HSNK) blisters the atmosphere around her, and it is fantastic to see her working with Dana Marks, with her explosive physicality, as they zip between alliance and total war. All four characters do this at different times–the alliances between married partners often do not hold. Ivey and Tourek are also very strong.

God of Carnage is a talk play, but director Richard Roland (also associate artistic director of Theatre Raleigh) has devised so much action that what you take away in memory is movement sequences, with words. One of the truly funny moments involves Veronica jumping up and down on her husband, and there’s a bit with a cellphone that may go viral. But most of the humor is pretty dark. Don’t go to it thinking that this is a feel-good play–it’s just a good play. And it may set you to worrying that old bone “truth is beauty.” There’s truth here, but it sure ain’t pretty.

Turn Out for Turn About: BROADWAY TWISTED at Local 506, one night only, 4/15

“We have the medical and public health tools we need to halt the HIV epidemic and enable people living with HIV to live relatively healthy lives. What we need now is the political will and community commitment to make sure every North Carolinian living with or at risk for HIV has the information, support, and healthcare they need.”

— Claire Hermann, NC AIDS Action Network
Undergrads from UNC's Dept. of Dramatic Art rehearse for Broadway Twisted, 4/8/2013.

Undergrads from UNC’s Dept. of Dramatic Art rehearse for BROADWAY TWISTED.

I know, I know, the causes and projects vying for your attention and cash are just overwhelming. But once in a while, somebody cooks up a fundraiser so good-humored and good-hearted that it revives a spirit drained by the continual supplication of Good Causes. Broadway Twisted, coming up Monday, April 15 in Chapel Hill’s Local 506, is such a one. For a mere $10 donation, you can enjoy an evening of show tunes sung by a cadre of actors singing across the gender divide–and your money will go to the NC AIDS Action Network, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The concert will showcase some high-class singing and carrying on, but what makes it great is that it showcases people at their best. Giving their time and talent, men and women from the theater community are joining forces to do something about a problem it is easy to lose sight of if you are not, for instance, one of the tens of thousands of people in North Carolina who are living with HIV.

Broadway Twisted is the brainchild of Nathaniel P. Claridad, an MFA student in the UNC Professional Actor Training Program, and pretty boy Bobby in the current PlayMakers Rep production of Cabaret. PRC/Cabaret, along with Manbites Dog Theater and its upcoming production, The Homosexuals, are the official presenters, with Tim Scales and his company Wagon Wheel Arts Promotion donating production assistance. Claridad will direct the concert, and PlayMakers’ affable associate artistic director Jeffrey Meanza will emcee.

Taylor Mac, right, in PRC's Cabaret. Josh Tobin as the Gorilla. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

Taylor Mac, right, in PRC’s Cabaret. Josh Tobin as the Gorilla. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

The biggest draw is Cabaret’s Emcee, the New York performance artist and Obie Award-winner Taylor Mac.  One wonders what gender-swapping may mean in his case. Lisa Brescia, the powerful Broadway singer currently in the Sally Bowles role in Cabaret will also appear, along with the show’s excellent music director and band leader Mark Hartman. Local community favorites include Julie Fishell and Ray Dooley, PRC members also in Cabaret. (All these people are performing gratis on their one night off.) Will Ray sweep in wearing his Lady Bracknell dress, or may we hope for something scantier?

Doors open at 7:30, Broadway Twisted starts at 8, and will run about 90 minutes. (Due to NC Liquor Laws, membership is required to attend shows at Local 506. Memberships are $3 and available at the door on the night of the performance.) Tickets $10 at the door, or at http://www.local506.com. You can spend your extra cash on raffle items. It’s for a good cause.

“36,500 people are living with HIV in North Carolina. One in five don’t know their status. Treatment can reduce transmission by up to 96% according to a recent UNC study, but only 30% of people diagnosed with HIV in NC are getting the care they need to be virally suppressed. “

— Claire Hermann, NC AIDS Action Network

The NC AIDS Action Network (NCAAN) is North Carolina’s only statewide advocacy organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, their loved ones, and those at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS in North Carolina. NCAAN and our thousands of Action Team members advocate for sound policies that improve access to care and prevent new cases of HIV, educate the public about HIV/AIDS related issues, challenge stigma, and strengthen our statewide community of advocates living with HIV/AIDS and allies. www.ncaan.org

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) is one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 BC/EFA has raised more than $225 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States. BC/EFA awards annual grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations nationwide and is the major supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, The Dancers’ Resource and the Stage Managers’ Project. www.broadwaycares.org

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