A word about happy hospitality: I must say that my opinion of Tanghalang Ateneo’s newbie play Metamorphoses, written by Mary Zimmerman and directed by BJ Crisostomo, was made slightly more positive at the outset. This was due to the very interesting touch of bringing out the actress who played the Young Girl to give announcements for those waiting outside the theater, and thanking people waiting outside and assuring them that the play would be good.
I must say that if there’s anything I really liked about this production, it was this.
The play Metamorphoses is based on one of the “great books of the Western World,” by the Roman author Ovid, and it takes the question of transformations (which is of course what the Greek word literally means) as its central theme. What happens when one is transformed? Most of the scenes in this play, a compilation of ten of the stories in the book, focus on the transformations brought about by love and its distortions.
I would agree with the capsule review put out elsewhere by Star columnist Alexis Abola that this production did lack one important element: the fantastic nature of the transformations in question. Whether it had to do with budgetary constraints, or the fear that any attempt to literally portray the transformations in some way would turn out to be too tacky, or a choice to view the transformations as much as a metaphor than anything else (hence making a line in the play about these transformations not being metaphorical an ironic one) is something I would not dare speculate upon. However, I would say that it was of little concern for me. It was a weak point, definitely, but not enough to affect what I thought of it.
One choice I made at the outset was to ask whether the actors could convincingly relate these tales afresh. I was aware of very little of the stories, including of course King Midas’s golden touch (which bookends the play), and vaguely aware of others, including that of Orpheus and Eurydice. To answer this query, I had to resolve one key problem I had with the play itself: its origins.
The difficulty I had was that like a few contemporary plays, it started life in the ivory tower. I have nothing against the ivory tower, and in the past have derived some material benefit from it, but the tendency of the play to turn at times into self-reflexive critiques which require, for instance, the inevitable turn to Jungian psychology, became more pronounced especially in the second act. It was to the credit of this production that it was presented, as it ought to be, in a self-deprecating and ironic way, catching out our tendency to read too much into stories and refusing to say that, as all myths go, these say more about ourselves than we care to admit. (Now before I end my own bout of self-reflexivity, I must argue that one of the results of the crisis of modernity was the connection of myth with falsehood, a tendency still seen in a most entertaining way in one Discovery Channel program.)
I would conclude that having said this, I gained a lot from this production. For instance, the origin of “halcyon days” became clearer to me than before (and honestly, I did recall hearing about the myth of Alcyone once but forgot), and I also found out some of the lesser-known stories from the Metamorphoses, including the tales of Myrrha and Phaeton. How they told these, though, was something I found enticing and entrancing, and my attention was held most of the time.
What did bother me was how Act I ended, which was the twofold retelling of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. I found the use of the Rilke poem a haunting and beautiful counterpoint, but the repetition of Orpheus’s tragic lament was for me an off-note. I preferred at this point that the act should have ended with silence. It was just too much.
For me, the proof that they were able to pull it off was the myth of Eros and Psyche, and this was one of the best part of the play for me. (I would say that this and the tale of Baucis and Philemon were the best parts.) Done in a style that evoked the chorus in Greek drama more than any other part of the play, I found it well-acted and well-told, and it helped that the chorus did their parts with almost melodic speech.
In conclusion, this was a play I enjoyed very much. Indeed, they were able to tell these stories afresh. Only problem was, they could have done a little more to remind us that these transformations were indeed more than metaphorical.
I end my two-part series of reviews with a little note on the fact that I really did not intend to go and watch these productions at the outset. If anything, I honestly didn’t know what I got myself into. But I found last week to be an interesting one, and I wonder what the rest of the year will be like.
The choice of this title can be traced to the previous post. Obviously, since I used a Queen song title to name my first review, and since Glee! revived the fortunes of this Queen classic, I just could not resist.