There is a good reason why higher education traditionally has included study of the Greeks. In many areas of human endeavor they uncovered truths about the universe and human behavior that have not been improved upon, only reformulated. But as the quality of our education system deteriorates, cowered by corporate values that define evolution as the growth of earnings per share rather than the expansion of human consciousness, the worldview and aesthetic of the Greeks becomes increasingly obscure.

It is therefore an incredible pleasure to witness the Avenue Theater's regional premiere of Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, which, with the hook of contemporary comedy, is able to lay bare the profound genius of Ovid's mythology, and bring the audience to their feet as a result.

With the backdrop of a classical columned cabana, and an elegant swimming pool front and center, a dozen famous myths are brought to life, each with its own powerful lessons on life.

So, then, who is this tuxedo-clad fellow, cell phone in hand, acting like it's his birthright to consume everything that crosses his path? No, not Dick Cheney, or even Donald Trump, it's King Midas, of course. Not content with more wealth than Croesus, when given a chance to have the gods grant him a wish, Midas asks that everything he touches be turned to gold.

Photo of Courtney Hayes (Iris) and John Arp (Sleep)
Courtney Hayes (Iris)
and John Arp (Sleep)
Photo: Larry Laszlo
John Arp has such a fun time with this greedy, lying character, you'd think he was getting to perform this at the White House. It must have been all those years in Houston that gave this gifted actor such a bead on portraying arrogance and self-deception, and the audience couldn't have been more delighted with this archetypal 21st Century plutocrat, doomed to roam to the ends of the earth (and throughout this production) in search of a certain pool of water that holds the hope of transforming his daughter back from gold to a living, breathing person.

(Clockwise from upper left) Photo of Step Pierce (Poseidon's Henchman), David Blumenstock (Poseidon), and Bill Hahn (Ceyx)
(Clockwise from upper left) Step Pierce
(Poseidon's Henchman), David Blumenstock
(Poseidon), and Bill Hahn (Ceyx)
Photo: Larry Laszlo
What is it with these Greeks that they don't take warnings seriously? Alcyone tells Ceyx that his plan for sailing off to war is an ill-fated one, but he goes anyway, claiming, like our "war president," that prolonged domesticity is an affront to his manhood. Elgin Kelly's Alcyone knows what's coming, and draws us into her dread and suffering, like an Iraq War widow left wondering to what end? In the first consummated metamorphosis of the evening, the two lovers are reunited as mating birds.

Photo of Elgin Kelley (Alcyone) and Bill Hahn (Ceyx)
Elgin Kelley (Alcyone)
and Bill Hahn (Ceyx)
Photo: Larry Laszlo
And so the ancient wisdom unfolds through "Pandora," "Orpheus & Eurydice," "Eros & Psyche," and the rest. David Blumenstock's Vertumnus morphs from old crone to virile suitor, trying to win the heart of Susie Scott's lovely Pomona, an unassuming flower child. Courtney Hayes drags us through the bottomless depths of despair as her Myrrha wrestles with the ultimate family betrayal, deceiving her father—Bill Hahn's unsuspecting, morally pliable, and ultimately, agonized Cinyras—into incest.

Step Pierce's brash Phaeton is the ultimate teenager beseeching his father Apollo to let him drive the chariot of the sun across the sky, as Trina O'Neill steps out of time to deliver a deft psychological analysis of Phaeton's ploy.

Director Jeremy Cole mixes and matches his ensemble with aplomb, playing on their emotional and physical versatility to reveal unexpected results. Enough can't be said about Michael Duran's stunning set. El Armstrong's sound design caps a number of perfect moments.

The Avenue Theater's regional premiere of Metamorphoses has been extended through January 2nd. 303-321-5925.

Bob Bows


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