Theater takes a big plunge to stage ‘Metamorphosis’

Noe Tallen
Photo by Charlie Gorrill
Noë Tallen in Theatre Pro Rata’s production of “Metamorphosis.”

Being the producer at a small theater comes with lots of nagging little details that need to be worked out, from scheduling the theater to getting the rights to the play to making sure you have the right cast for the show.

Theatre Pro Rata‘s Carin Bratlie faced a different challenge with the company’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphosis” — building a pool on the Loading Dock Theater’s stage in St. Paul. (The show opens tonight — March 21.)

It called on skills that usually don’t get covered in university theater education, from making sure the floor can handle the weight of 1,000 gallons of water (about four tons of weight) to making sure the water is warm enough so the actors don’t end up chattering through the scenes.

“We treated it like a real pool,” Bratlie says. The director called on a friend who works in the pool industry to help her take the plunge.

It helped that the Loading Dock Theater is just that — a converted loading dock, with reinforced concrete floors designed to take the weight of a truck. Still, the crew needed to make sure that the entire structure could take the weight of the water and — just as important — wouldn’t leak into the auditorium. In the end, they have a pool which, when first filled with water early Sunday morning, had one minor issue that was quickly solved.

Split production

Of course, it was Zimmerman’s text — rather than just the chance to splash around on stage like a Cirque du Soleil performer — that drew Bratlie and Theatre Pro Rata to the adaptation. Zimmerman uses David Slavitt‘s translation of Ovid’s classic work, which lured Bratlie into the heart of stories full of passion, heartbreak and a sense of wonder about the world. Along the way, there are stories that will be instantly familiar (King Midas and his damned golden touch) and others that may tickle memories of later stories that used the legend as a foundation.

It’s a striking work, and the pool — far from being a gimmick or distraction — plays an essential role in the show. I saw a production of the show several years ago in Cincinnati, and was moved not just by the stories themselves (which have endured for thousands of years for a reason) but also by the love letter that Zimmerman crafted to the art of storytelling itself.

Bratlie saw those same elements when reading the script — and then moving further back into the book itself. “Since we are a text-based theater, I went back to the original book and read it,” Bratlie says. “Many familiar characters from mythology, like Cupid, are there. These stories have been reused and recycled. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe (used by Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’) is there,” Bratlie says.

A scheduling quirk gave the actors an extra month to prepare, which Bratlie believes will help them adjust to the pool. The first readings and preliminary work for the show were done in January. The actors were assigned roles, began to work on characters and started with movement training, while Bratlie went off to serve as assistant director on the Guthrie Theater’s production of “Third.”

The long lead time — and a veteran cast including Zach Curtis, Heather Stone and Noë Tallen — has given Bratlie a fine gift as a director. “They are ready to do the show.”

Only a few short days separated the first filling of the pool and opening night. Bratlie is confident all will be ready tonight — and worth all the effort.

“Mary Zimmerman’s first production was in a black box like this,” Bratlie observes. “Since then, it’s been done with all sizes and shapes of pools. I even saw photographs of a production that didn’t use water at all — just cloth. But what would be the point of that?”

What: Theatre Pro Rata’s “Metamorphosis”
When: March 21-April 6
Where: Loading Dock Theater, 509 Sibley St., St. Paul
Tickets: $14-$28
Phone: 612-874-9321

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by George Leaureux on 03/25/2008 - 01:49 pm.

    You mentioned calling on a friend in the pool business for help. Were you thinking about mentioning the group of college kids you battered to build the pool on a shoestring budget during their mid-terms?
    Acknowledging a contribution, even if it is from your “mere underlings” takes so little effort and produces so much value.
    Perhaps that could be your metamophosis. Take the plunge into recognizing others instead of staying in the pukey larvae of self-absobsion.

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