Play review by Nej

at the Circle in the Square Theater
Adapted/Directed by Mary Zimmerman

This play is truly, as the Wall Street Journal proclaimed,
“a gift from the gods,” a must-see for any pagan with the means to get tickets.

Let me begin with a confession: The Greek and Roman mythology component of my high school AP English class was brought to me courtesy of Cliff notes. I purchased the required copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology, and after making a few attempts to actually read it, shelved it indefinitely. I was turned off to classic Greek myth as dry and boring and left it as that. When I came into paganism, I began with study of Hindu and Sumerian myth. Thanks to Mary Zimmerman and the excellent cast of this play, Greek Mythology has finally gotten its fair shake. This production was truly a cathartic experience eliciting almost every human emotion in the course of just over 90 minutes—grief, mirth, disgust, gratitude, compassion... you name it. The stage itself is actually a 30 foot pool, and all of the action takes place either in or around it. The pool and its surrounding space become a garden, a river, the ocean, a bedroom, the underworld, and an actual modern swimming pool replete with yellow inflatable floating lounge chair. The narrator in the beginning talks about transformation, and the pool/stage becomes a Cerridwen’s cauldron of changes (yes, I know, mixed pantheon metaphors! sorry!). The gods, and all they stand for, sink into, rise out of, and flail against the water. The water becomes a medium of the transformation and its accompanying emotions. Between the pool, the wooden deck around it, the panel of clouds behind it (where the gods in the heavens appear), and the chandelier above the pool, it feels like the 4 elements are duly present and balanced.

The show begins with the myth of Midas. The God Bacchus answers Midas’s request for the golden touch with the grand pronouncement: “That’s a really, really BAD idea!” The audience cracked up, and we knew more of what to expect out of the rest of the play—all of the characters, human or divine were real, live and down-to-earth. Later on, in the myth of Phaeton, the sun’s child whined petulantly to his therapist about how hard it was to get beaten up at school when the other kids didn’t believe that his father really was Apollo. In his sunglasses and swim trunks, he paddled around the pool on his yellow pool float, talking about how he felt abandoned by his father, and really only wanted one thing his whole life— “the keys to his car of course!”

The story of Alcyon and Ceyx was beautifully and heartbreakingly told . The green lighting, and choice of long flowing green and teal clothing gave a dream-like, oceanic feeling to the tale. They used men dressed in green seaweed and netting to personify the sea wrestling with, and drowning Ceyx. The chaos of the splashing, struggling, and wailing ended with the calm empty pool and Ceyx floating lifeless in it. It felt like waking from a terrible nightmare. Tara Falk’s portrayal of Alcyon’s grief sent chills and waves of tears through me.

In the story of Erysichthon, the use of a moaning person clothed head to toe in sheer brown clothing, clinging ceaselessly to Erysichthon’s back was an excellent depiction of insatiable hunger. The narrator comments that “...the godless are always hungry.” Later he sells his mother to a fisherman, and she is transformed into the young girl who used to play by Poseidon’s shores. The narrator further comments that the joyful playing of children at the shore is exactly the sort of sincere worship that the gods truly appreciate. I highly concur. The image of the giggling girl walking off in Poseidon’s arms ended the tale on a happy note for me, even if Erysichthon does bring about his own just demise.

The story of Myrrha, the young woman who is cursed to long for her own father after refusing to obey Aphrodite’s dictate to fall in love with one of her suitors, was absolutely creepy. The pool became a silent, dark murky world of incest and deception. I was torn between feeling great compassion and disgust towards Myrrha as the story unraveled. Aphrodite, in a departure from her usual portrayal of the sweet goddess of love, was actually quite a bitch in her scenes throughout the play.

The myths of Eros and Psyche, and Baucis and Philemon were rendered with sincerity, simplicity and tenderness. Orpheus and Eurydice offered two interesting and very different interpretations of the final moments of the myth. Vertumnus’s attempts at wooing Pomona were entertaining and comical, and a bizarre but welcome contrast to the story of Myrrah and her ill-fated father.

The “chilly, wet, cast members” were in the foyer after the show talking to people and rewarding contributions to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids with autographed Metamorphoses merchandise. (Don’t be disappointed, the $100 donation only gets you the BC/EFA bathrobe, not the tasty gentlemen wearing them.) This play is truly, as the Wall Street Journal proclaimed, “a gift from the gods”, a must-see for any pagan with the means to get tickets, and a worthy homage to Ovid. You can find out more about the play at Click on “tickets” for information on the limited number of front row discount seats available at the box office the day of the show. In the event of front row seats, wear a raincoat!