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Guthrie’s indelible ‘Metamorphoses’ is powerful, moving and visually delicious

ALSO: University Organist Dean Billmeyer at Northrop;  “Nureyev” at Edina Cinema; Lorna Landvik at Scott County Library; and more.

Ceyx (Alex Moggridge) tells Alcyone (Louise Lamson) that he will return from his sea voyage. He won’t.
Photo by Dan Norman

We hoped to reread Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” before seeing the play at the Guthrie. Not the whole thing; it’s hundreds of pages and thousands of lines of poetry, translated from the Latin. But we wanted to check out the myths playwright Mary Zimmerman included, or at least a few: King Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Baucis and Philemon.

We didn’t. No matter. You can go into this production cold and be enchanted. It’s so powerful and moving, so visually delicious that all you have to do is pay attention. At 90 minutes with no intermission, “Metamorphoses” is over before you know it, and before you want it to be. One ancient, timeless story follows another, and in some way, they’re all about love and transformation.

The stage is a large pool filled with 1,500 gallons of water. Most of the play takes place in the water. Love, loss, joy, grief, lust and greed all play out in the water, often with a lot of splashing. But the pool not a gimmick. A few moments into the play, it makes perfect sense. And it allows the actors to move in unexpected ways: slowed down, graceful, rolling and fluid.

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There’s a boardwalk around the pool, a large door at the back, and a screen onto which clouds are projected. From above the screen, the gods look down on the humans below and invent ways to torment them.

“Metamorphoses” is mostly serious. As one character remarks, “Almost none of these stories have completely happy endings.” There are moments of humor. Someone mentions partying like it’s 1999. We catch a phrase from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The tale of Narcissus is a visual pun. A “Surprise! We’re gods!” reveal at the home of two elderly people brings laughs. So does a spoiled, bratty Phaeton floating on a pool raft, whining about wanting to pilot his father Apollo’s chariot. (“Give me the keys to the car!”)

But those are the exceptions. When Midas (Raymond Fox) orders his boisterous young daughter to “Be still for once in your life!” we feel a frisson of horrible foreboding. When Alcyone begs her husband, Ceyx, not to take a sea voyage, we sense she’s right and this will end badly. When Hades tells Orpheus not to look back to see if Eurydice is following him out of the underworld, we know he’s doomed, and so is she.

Even if some or all of these stories are familiar – many of us learned something about the Greek myths in school, or by playing video games or watching Hollywood movies with “Titans” in the title – the way Zimmerman tells them keeps them fresh and timely. King Midas is a modern-day mogul for whom money is everything. Once the gods grant his wish that whatever he touches will turn to gold, he takes a victory turn around the pool, with the ting ting of a little bell accompanying each golden step. Then his daughter leaps into his arms. On the night we saw the play, the whole audience gasped at that.

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The story of Phaeton, who burns the world, is told as a therapy session. The tale of Eros and Psyche is a Q&A. Ovid’s take on Orpheus and Eurydice is paired with Rilke’s interpretation, which is even more devastating. Which is worse, to lose the one you love, or to be forgotten? The ravenous hunger of Erysichthon – that’s his punishment for cutting down a tree belonging to the goddess Ceres – is literally a creature clinging to his back, a combination “Walking Dead” vampire and “Game of Thrones” wight.

In 2002, Zimmerman won a Best Director Tony Award for “Metamorphoses.” She’s here directing the Guthrie’s production – actually a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre – and some of the cast members from the original Broadway show are on the Guthrie stage. Ten people play multiple roles, but when Steven Epp was on stage/in the pool, he had our full attention. Kudos to Daniel Ostling’s bold and ambitious scenic design, Mara Blumenfeld’s lovely costumes (which stand up to special challenges), T.J. Gerckens’ painterly lighting and Andre Pleuss’ sound. This may be one of the most beautiful and indelible plays we see this year. FMI and tickets ($29-78). Ends May 19.

The picks

If you’ve been attending the Mack lectures at the Walker, please note that the Ed Atkins performance/lecture scheduled for this Wednesday (April 24) has been canceled. The Walker hopes to reschedule it for a later date.

D.C. Ice, ‘Pattern-Maker’
Courtesy of Artistry
D.C. Ice, ‘Pattern-Maker’
Tonight (Tuesday, April 23) at Artistry: Artist Talk: “Between Worlds.” Arts journalist Camille LeFevre will moderate a conversation among artists Karen Brown, Jennifer Davis and D.C. Ice about the creative processes and inspirations behind their artwork now on display in Artistry’s main gallery. There are many animals in this show – in Brown’s large-scale, half-human and half-animal mixed media sculptures; in Jennifer Davis’ paintings of surreal and imaginative characters; and in D.C. Ice’s intricate and fantastical stories on scratchboard. 1800 W. Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington. 7 p.m. FMI. Free.

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Tonight at the Edina Cinema: “Nureyev.” A new documentary traces the life of arguably the finest male ballet dancer ever: his journey from poverty to stardom, his shocking Cold War defection to the West, his Beatles-like superstardom and his unapologetic sexuality. This film by Jacqui Morris and David Morris came out April 19; it will be followed April 26 by “The White Crow,” the biopic by David Hare, directed by Ralph Fiennes. Nureyev fans, this is your time. “Nureyev” will screen just once. 7 p.m. FMI including trailer and tickets ($15).

Tonight at Northrop: In Concert: University Organist Dean Billmeyer. Northrop’s restored Aeolian-Skinner organ is getting a workout. Liquid Music will move in on May 4 with organist James McVinnie and Darkstar. Northrop’s Music Series for 2019-20, announced last week, will feature three concerts with the organ. Tonight, the U of M’s official organist will present his first solo concert on the magnificent instrument, playing music by Bach, Harold Darke, Messiaen and Louis Vierne. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20/15/10).

Wednesday at Open Book: 4th Annual National Poetry Month Party and Reading. Milkweed Editions is hosting the party, so it gets to pick the poets. All three have new books published by Milkweed in 2019: Lee Ann Roripaugh (“tsunami vs. the fukushima 50″), Alex Lemon (“Another Last Day”) and Su Hwang (“Bodega,” coming in October). 6 p.m. reception with poetry-themed drinks, 7 p.m. reading. Book sales and signing to follow. Free and open to the public. RSVP requested. $10 suggested donation to cover food and refreshments.

Benny Golson
Photo by Antonio Porcar Cano
Benny Golson has performed and recorded with an encyclopedic list of greats, made dozens of albums, written hundreds of tunes, and is still going strong.
Wednesday and Thursday at Crooners: Benny Golson. The term “living legend” gets tossed around a lot, but in this case it really means something. Tenor saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Golson, who turned 90 in January, is one of just two surviving members of Art Kane’s “A Great Day in Harlem,” the most famous photograph in jazz history. The other is saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins, who no longer performs. Golson has played and recorded with an encyclopedic list of greats, made dozens of albums, written hundreds of tunes (including eight standards – tunes with a firm footing in the jazz repertoire) and is still going strong. He’s also a witty raconteur with a lifetime of stories to tell, and he’ll share some of those over two nights on Crooner’s main stage. Golson will be joined by New York pianist Sharp Radway and our own excellent Gordy Johnson on bass and Phil Hey on drums. Shows at 7 and 9 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($30-40). Here he is playing one of his standards, “Killer Joe.”

Thursday at Scott County Library in Prior Lake: Club Book: Lorna Landvik. The prolific author, actor, stand-up comedian, public speaker and playwright is out with her twelfth novel, “Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes).” It’s the tale of a beloved small-town newspaper columnist who falls into a coma after viewing a production of “Guys and Dolls.” Filling the void, her publisher republishes old articles and letters from readers, dredging up memories and revisiting a complicated past. 16210 Eagle Creek Ave. SE in Prior Lake. 7 p.m. FMI. Can’t come in person? The podcast will be available shortly.