'Metamorphoses' is a transformative show

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By Doug Deuchler

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Several weeks ago, I stopped by Oak Park and River Forest High School to visit the construction in progress of the large, round, raised pool that is such a pivotal part of the show Metamorphoses. The high school drama program often launches cutting-edge productions, but this one promised to be especially thrilling and unique. 

Director Annie Slivinski proudly showed me around while many members of the stage crew were working diligently. Slivinski is retiring at the end of the school year; this will be her final show at the high school.

"Although the stories in Metamorphoses are all based on ancient myths," she pointed out, "the show is so timeless; it's not set in any particular time period. It's about love and transformation, set in water. The play was created and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman at Looking Glass Theater. It was an enormous hit and then moved to Broadway where it was a sold-out hit and Tony Award winner. We are so excited to be doing it here. I have a wonderful ensemble of 12 actors and a large number of very talented stage technicians. They have done all the work on this amazing swimming pool.

"There are so many issues to consider when attempting this show," Slivinski noted. "The needs of safety and health are foremost, of course. We have a huge body of water on stage. Portable heaters are on either side. The pool itself has two levels of depth. The side closest to the audience is the deepest."

The opening night audience seemed more excited than usual as the lights dimmed and the music began. A six-member combo, directed by Charlie Riechert Powell, included Leo Buczkowski, Noah Sherman, Olive Loeute, Maia Huang, and Janek Schall. They provided musical punctuation that ranged from hip jazz to classical-style interludes. The music was all composed by Powell.

Playwright Zimmerman adapted this play from a 15-book narrative by Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.-17 A.D.). Narrators move the well-paced story along. 

As a lovely chandelier sparkled high above the action, the performers were both poignant and playful as they swam, fell, floated, waded, plunged, thrashed and even "drowned" in the large, round pool. 

From Mount Olympus to The Underworld, worlds collide. Some of the episodes are darkly violent, but there is plenty of unexpected humor and tenderness as well. I was especially amused by the episode featuring young Phaeton floating on his rubber, inflatable raft, whining to his therapist about his relationship with his father, Apollo.

The finale includes many floating lit candles in the pool. It's quite picturesque.

There is no intermission. The entire show lasts about 90 minutes.

Many of the 12 cast members play multiple roles. Some of the characters portrayed are well known, such as King Midas with his golden touch or Orpheus and Eurydice. But many others, such as Vertumnus and Pomona or Alcyone and Ceyx, are more obscure.

The ensemble is composed of Simon Boyle, Hannah Brandon, Alyssa Coughlin, Lucien Dejule, Feliz DeGuzeman, Maeve Doody, Emmanuel Flores, Aidan Lenehan, Isabelle Meyer, Mira Mundt, Allison Strom and Graham Wielgos.

The performers run offstage in dripping wet clothes, only to appear moments later in dry ones.

The design team presents a lovely picture. Costume designer Jeffrey Kelly's costumes ingeniously fuse ancient and modern styles, zany yet timeless, like the production. Adele Henning and Prachi Mehendale are the scenic artists. Master carpenters are Emmet Norman and Lena Henry. Brian Gallager designed the outstanding lighting. Patricia Cheney did make-up and hair design. The tech director was Christopher Scholtens.

Metamorphoses is an amazing high school production that seems to have no weak link in the chain. I'm gratified that the school decided to take a chance on this ambitious, very different show.

Two performances remain, showing at the Little Theatre at OPRF. Friday, Dec. 8, and Saturday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m. $8; $6 students/seniors. Tickets at the door. 201 N. Scoville Ave., Oak Park.

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