CTC’s “Metamorphoses” Explores the Power of Story

Photo courtesy Calvin Theatre Company

Photo courtesy Calvin Theatre Company

Calvin Theatre Company’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” will open on Thursday November 13th. This ambitious production offers a unique and moving theater experience that will bring viewers face to face with the power of story.

“The play includes nine myths that are from Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” explained director Stephanie Sandberg. “They are all about transformations.” These metamorphoses vary, including “falling in love, moving from life to afterlife or from hatred to love.”

“And all the transformations take place in the transformative element of water,” said Sandberg.

For this production, the theater company designed a pool in the lab theater. The set encircles the pool. Sandberg said, “I was told by other directors, ‘The water is hard to deal with!’ but you never know that until you get in.”

“Water is such a destructive element,” said senior cast member Brian Alford. “Water does what it wants and is difficult to control.”

“It’s also very cold,” he added.

Emily Wetzel, also a member of the cast said, “It’s difficult to make the transition from practicing on stage to in a pool.”

The extra element of the pool and the mythic proportions of the play demand physical exertion from the actors. The play requires many difficult lifts as the actors use their bodies to help tell the story, similar to dance.

“In order to handle the physical difficulty,” explains Sandberg, “we partnered with the kinesiology department. Our actors trained heavily in order to be able to lift each other.” The cast also practiced movements in a pool.

Actors have the added pressure of playing multiple roles. “We each play at least four characters,” explained Wetzel.

The roles are also unusual. “We are playing these huge archetypal characters with huge emotions,” said Alford. “It’s exciting to play something so mythic.”

Despite these difficulties, members of the cast express enthusiasm and passion for the power of Zimmerman’s retelling of these classic tales.

Sandberg said, “these are some of the oldest stories, but they still have this incredible resonance with us.”

“The play is very accessible,” said Alford. The play does incorporate elements of postmodern theater that might be unfamiliar to students. However, “Mary Zimmerman is—almost to fault—fascinated in the universal,” he explained.

“The play is very moving, beautiful, poetic, lyrical,” said Wetzel.

Sandberg appreciates Zimmerman’s work because her plays “get back to the question: what do stories do for us?”

“She doesn’t tell stories in the traditional way,” explains Sandberg. “Metamorphoses challenges you to listen and think in a different way.”

“I wanted to do something that is challenging to the community. We’ve had a ridiculously awful year of suffering in the world. These plays look at the meaning of suffering and existence,”  said Sandberg. Stories and myths are an ancient method of finding meaning.

Wetzel and Alford hope audiences will critically engage with the themes of change, healing, life and love in the play. “This play lets you be absorbed in a story, but it also takes a postmodern look at the story and asks how the stories have changed. This is the analytical attitude we have at Calvin,” says Alford.

“People should expect to be moved,” said Wetzel. She explains that the play opens with a character asking to be changed. “I would really love people to come in with that same attitude.”