Folger Theatre mounts a transcendent ‘Metamorphoses’

A singular cultural achievement you will remember for years.

Some productions are so full of light and life that you will remember them for years as transcendent theatrical experiences. Such is the case with Folger Theatre’s Metamorphoses. In the words of Director Psalmayene 24, it is “a ritual meant to celebrate and elevate Black humanity while connecting us to all humanity.”

Mary Zimmerman’s play, based on the myths of Ovid (from the translation of David R. Slavitt) was originally created with students at Northwestern University. There was a professional production at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre in 1998 and a Broadway run in 2002. Zimmerman won the Tony Award that year for Best Direction. Here in DC it has been produced by Constellation Theatre (2012) and Arena Stage (2013).

Alcyon (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) provides loving comfort to Ceyx (DeJeanette Horne) in Folger Theatre’s production of ‘Metamorphoses,’ Mary Zimmerman’s retelling of the classic myths of Ovid. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

Psalmayene 24’s decision to choose an all-Black cast was rooted in his reaction to the police killing of Tyre Nichols. Nichols’ “unjust and brutal killing” was a shattering reminder that in America the powerful (and those who enable them) continue to devalue Black life.

His vision, as communicated in an interview with Dramaturg Faedra Chatard Carpenter, was this:

I thought it was important… to ground this production by gesturing to Africa, but also knowing that the arms of Africa have reached out throughout the globe. I wanted us to think about that influence, about how that looks culturally; how that looks through clothing, sound, and movement. I think theater, and this particular play, feels like the perfect medium to really explore the full reach and breadth and richness of the African diaspora.

From the first entrance of Miss Kitty as the Water Nymph, we realize that we will be seeing something extraordinary.

The Woman by the Water (Yesenia Iglesias) speaks:

Bodies I have in mind, and how they can change to assume new shapes – I ask the help of the gods, who know the trick: change me, let me glimpse the secret. and speak, better than I know how, of the world’s birthing and the creation of all things, from the first to the latest.

The dazzling choreography of Tony Thomas takes center stage—Psalmayene 24 calls the piece a “mythic choreo-drama.” There are a multiplicity of glorious sounds; sometimes music, sometimes waves, sometimes the ringing of bells or the jingle of a tambourine. Sound designer and composer is Nick tha 1da Hernandez (original composer is Willy Schwartz).

TOP LEFT: Jon Hudson Odom as Midas; TOP RIGHT: Hunger (Yesenia Islesias, left) breathes spirit into Erysichthon (Gerrad Alex Taylor); ABOVE LEFT: Cinyras (DeJeannte Horne) expresses a father’s love, comforting his daughter Myrrha (Renea S. Brown); ABOVE RIGHT: The Water Nymph (Miss Kitty) introduces us to the mythical tales of Ovid, in Folger Theatre’s production of ‘Metamorphoses.’ Photos by Brittany Diliberto.

We meet Midas (Jon Hudson Odom), who enters to the mellow tones of ’80s hit “For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays. Nattily attired in a blue velvet jacket, he has lots of money, he assures us, but he’s not greedy…everything he has he got through hard work. Those who haven’t got it in them, well, they haven’t got it. “Family is the most important thing, isn’t it? One’s own family, I mean, not anyone else’s for gods sake.”

Meanwhile his lively daughter (Kalen Robinson) is driving him mad with interruptions. She plays with a ball, skips rope, and annoys her father to the point that he shouts at her to leave. He celebrates Bacchus’ (Gerrad Alex Taylor) gift of “the golden touch” with a jubilant dance. But as often happens there are, shall we say, unintended consequences.

Alcyone (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) and Ceyx (DeJeanette Horne) seem like the perfect couple. Their love is all-encompassing. When he has to leave (to consult an oracle, of course), she has a sense of foreboding. Although there is a tragedy, with the aid of Aphrodite (Yesenia Iglesias), the gods provide mercy, although not quite in the way one would expect.

The gods, as in Ovid, are unpredictable. They can show compassion. But they can also punish. Eriysichthon (Gerrad Alex Taylor) offends the gods by cutting down a tree that, unfortunately for him, contains a Tree Nymph. Hunger (Yesenia Iglesias) will take over his mind and stomach, and ultimately his life. Edwin Brown is a fine Phaeton, but his flight in his father’s chariot will be an ill-fated one. Renea S. Brown shines as Myrrha, but she pays dearly for a forbidden passion.

On a lighter note, the acting, dance, and movement talents of the entire cast are on spectacular display. Miss Kitty and all the others weave the scenes together with breathtaking skill.

Midas (Jon Hudson Odom, front center) celebrates his new ‘golden touch’ gift in Folger Theatre’s ‘Metamorphoses.’ Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

There is love: Odom’s Orpheus is a rock star smitten with the radiant Eurydice (Billie Krishawn). There is comedy: a wonderful scene between the preoccupied Pomona (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) and her hilariously persistent suitor Vertumnus (Manu Kumasi).

Traditionally the staging features a large pool of water of varying depth. The pool is missing here, but not missed; Lawrence E. Moten III’s scenic design and lighting by William K. D’Eugenio are strikingly effective. The costumes, by Mika Eubanks, which reflect the African influence, are gorgeous and full of rich detail. Special mention is due to Rueben D. Echoles (wig and hair design) and Deb Thomas (props design).

Don’t miss the Folger’s Metamorphosis. It is a singular cultural achievement, and one we can all share.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Metamorphoses plays through June 16, 2024, at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 E Capitol Street SE, Washington, DC. To purchase tickets ($20–$84, with many discounts available), go online or call the Box Office at (202) 544-7077.

To see credits for the cast and creative team, click here.

COVID Safety: While Folger audiences and employees are no longer required to wear masks at most events, masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19. Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so. Masks are required at the performances on Saturday, June 8, at 2 pm and 8 pm.

Metamorphoses
Based on the myths of Ovid
By Mary Zimmerman
From the translation by David R. Slavitt
Directed by Psalmayene 24

CAST
Third Man, Phaeton, and Others: Edwin Brown
Third Woman, Myrrha and Others: Renea S. Brown
First Man, Zeus and Others: DeJeanette Horne
First Woman, Aphrodite and Others: Yesenia Iglesias
Second Woman, Eurydice and Others: Billie Krishawn
Fourth Man, Vertumnus and Others: Manu Kumasi
Water Numph: Miss Kitty
Second Man, Midas and Others: Jon Hudson Odom
Fourth Woman, Midas’ Daughter and Others: Kalen Robinson
Fifth Man, Bacchus and Others: Gerrad Alex Taylor
Fifth Woman, Alcyone and Others: Renee Elizabeth Wilson

CREATIVE TEAM
Playwright: Mary Zimmerman
Director: Psalmayene 24
Choreographer: Tony Thomas
Scenic Designer: Lawrence E. Moten III
Lighting Designer: William K. D’Eugenio
Costume Designer: Mika Eubanks
Sound Designer, Composer: Nick tha 1da Hernandez
Original Composer: Willy Schwartz
Props Designer: Deb Thomas
Wig and Hair Design: Rueben D. Echoles
Resident Intimacy Director and Cultural Consultant: Kaja Dunn
Dramaturg: Faedra Chatard Carpenter

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe.

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