‘Metamorphoses’: An Underwater Premiere

Matilda Swartz

Vasey Theatre now houses a 14-by 24-foot pool that is the centerpiece of “Metamorphoses” – a “poetic re-envisioning of Ovid’s classical myths” written by Mary Zimmerman. 

Beware though. This is not your stuffy Advanced Placement English teacher’s Ovid.  This is the hip mythological love child of Zimmerman, director Shawn Kairschner and set designer Parris Bradley.

Zimmerman’s script is based on David R. Slavitt’s translation of “The Metamorphoses of Ovid,” a fifteen-book narrative filled with hundreds of tales depicting creation, redemption and most importantly, love. 

The stage adaptation takes nine of the countless tales ranging from the more familiar story of King Midas to the obscure account of Baucis and Philemon. 

In true Ovid style, the tales, or scenes rather intertwine, making this an uninterrupted hour and a half performance. 

Kairschner, with a doctorate from Stanford University, is far from a novice to the stage or the director’s seat. 

As an actor he was a part of the premiere American cast to perform at London’s new Globe Theatre.

Off-stage, he spent three years as art director of the Sideway Theater Company in Berkeley, Calif.

“Metamorphoses” is number three on Kairschner’s list of Villanova Theatre productions, following “Mother Courage and Her Children” (’07-’08 season) and “The Tempest” (’06-’07 season). 

The 10-person cast is entirely made up of Villanova students -two theatre program alumni, two undergraduate theatre minors and six current graduate theatre students. 

The five men and five women portray as many as 75 different characters throughout the show. This is perhaps the smallest of the cast and crew’s feats.

The decision to commit to delivering “Metamorphoses” to Villanova was made last spring, marking the beginning of a tedious gestation period.

It was evident from the start that this show demanded more than a few room constructions and run-throughs of simple stage choreography.

Kairschner and Bradley spent the summer researching the feasibility of crafting an on-stage pool. Throughout the set assembly and rehearsal process, every member of the “Metamorphoses” team had to adapt to the innovative yet temperamental water body.

The pool has depths varying from two inches to two feet to accommodate standing and submersion.

Unlike an everyday pool, this one is lined with black instead blue in order to reflect the desired lighting.

Wetsuits were required throughout rehearsals for the actors’ own health more than anything else.

Vasey is not known to be a warm and cozy space, so two pumps were installed in the water to keep the pool at a tolerable 85 degrees.

Perhaps the biggest sacrifice for the cast is its inability to use personal hygiene products to prevent a filmy buildup from tainting the water. 

These ten brave souls have redefined what it means to do anything in the name of art.

If the pool alone is not enough of a lure, then one must be reminded again, this is by no means a traditional rendition of Ovid’s mythology. 

Little decisions, from the score to wardrobe, instantly modernize the show. Background music will add a Mediterranean, East-meets-West vibe.

Up in the “God Box” (a deck built on stage for the characters of the upper-echelon to dwell), togas will be unconventional.

Expect to see Zeus in a full white suit with a gold-wreath crown and Achilles donning battle armor and a sunny yellow tennis visor.

The buzz surrounding Villanova’s presentation of “Metamorphoses” grows louder as the Feb. 3 opening night approaches.

For those expecting a direct interpretation of Ovid, reevaluate your expectations. For those expecting an hour and a half of narration, motion and innovation, expect more.

“Metamorphoses” will be on stage from Feb. 3-15 at Vasey Hall. Performances will start at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets range from $20-$24 with discounts available for groups, seniors and students. Tickets are available through the Villanova Theatre Box Office.