Metamorphoses at South Pasadena High School is something so thoroughly unexpected and unabashedly theatrical as to defy categorization. Based on the Roman poet, Ovid’s, fifteen books of mythology written in 8 A.D., Mary Zimmerman’s 2001 play highlights several of the stories into ninety minutes of grief, joy, love, death and redemption. Director Nick Hoffa has once again gathered a diverse array of talented young actors who portray 60+ roles in a production that is raw and breathtaking. All the action takes place in and around a real pool of water on stage, beautifully realized and lit by James Jontz, and set to exquisite, live music ( Albert Zhou and Adam Yang on violin and Gina Lee on cello). There is striking choreography throughout by Kayla Nielsen and Tabitha Okitsu that is transcendant.
The tone of the play moves freely between realism and the absurd, the juxtapositioning of which can feel almost jarring, but I welcomed the moments of levity in between the uncomfortable and painful. Is there anything more human than laughter amidst sorrow? The stories are told in a dreamlike succession of vignettes with every actor giving strong performances as they work together to transition seamlessly from one character to the next. The pool of water acts as a conduit of transformation as characters bathe in it, are reflected in it, born out of it and die in it.
Christian Villasenor is funny and charismatic as Phaeton, chilling on a pool floatie lamenting his strained relationship with his father Apollo (played with hysterical relish by Levi Srabalus) to his jaded therapist, played with erudite authority by Karenna Senske.
An engaging Matisse Rocca makes a splash, literally, as the mortal king, Erysichthon, who carelessly chops down sacred trees and is punished with an insatiable Hunger, played cleverly by a haunting Tabitha Okitsu. Jackson Monical and Anna Gale are compelling as the desperately in love Alcyone and Ceyx whose love, even in death, inspires the gods to transform them so that they can be together. Ava Page is a delightful Iris the Rainbow while the lovely Rena Pau enchants as Hermes and Atalanta.
Syndey Davis Denny charms as Pomona, a wood nymph pursued by Vertumnus, the god of springtime, in a story of love and deception. Linus Woods has a ball as Vertumnus, putting on various disguises to woo Pomona and captivates as King Midas who begins to realize that his wish to turn everything he touches to gold produces some unintended results. Kayla Nielsen breaks your heart as the beauty Myrrha who is tortured by the love she has for her father, King Cinyras. Their encounters are expressed in dance by Nielsen, and Okitsu as Cinyras, and the result is riveting.
All the stories are beautifully told, perhaps none quite so touching as the story of Baucis and Philemon whose wish is to die at the same moment so as not to ever live without each other. Their transformation is among the most powerful. Beginning with the birth of the world and working through twelve mythological tales, Metamorphoses takes us on a life journey of desire, hope, all consuming love, regret, death and redemption. What becomes evident is that tragedy is part of joy, that in fact tragedy can transform into joy, and that no temporal pursuit whether it be wealth, fame, success or desire goes with you in the end. What King Midas comes to realize is what he had been preaching but not living; the most important thing, the only enduring thing, is love.
“Metamorphoses” has mature themes and content. Parental discretion advised for 13 and under. Metamorphoses (directed by Nick Hoffa, technical direction by James Jontz) runs two weekends: Fri Nov 15th & Sat Nov 16th, 7pm, then Fri Nov 22nd, 7 pm and two shows Sat Nov 23rd, 2 pm and 7pm. The Little Theater, South Pasadena High School, 1401 Fremont Ave. South Pasadena. General Admission is $15. Tickets may be purchased online at sphsasb.org, in the SPHS student bank after noon, or at the door 30 minutes before the show.