When you’re watching a play set in a swimming pool, the actors and you are going to get wet. Also tempest-tossed, drowned, baptized, washed clean.
Mary Zimmerman’s aquatic drama based on ancient Greek myths, Metamorphoses, hits on some big themes: greed and generosity, piety and sacrilege, vanity and selflessness, love that’s obsessive or selfless or even transcendent. You’ll see Narcissus staring at his own reflection, Midas lusting after anything that’s gold, Orpheus and Eurydice loving one another even after death.
Some scenes focus on our capacity for ugliness — cruelty, heartlessness, revenge, even incest. But enduring love and forgiveness play their parts, too.
In the story of a man who’s condemned to eternal hunger — and who eventually destroys himself after selling out some of his own family members — it’s not difficult to see an analogy to addiction. Or, as director Yvonne Johnson suggests, the man consumed by capital- H Hunger is “such a greedy consumer — compared to Midas, he’s even worse, because he knows he’s doing it.”
But Metamorphoses isn’t always heavy and poetic.
When Phaeton complains about how Dad (Apollo) never lets him have the keys to the family car (the chariot of the Sun), he’s lounging around on an inflatable raft and complaining to his psychoanalyst. Midas plays with the cutest little remote-control boat. Costumes shift from togas to contemporary, from Victorian to skimpy.
But the aquatic special effects can also be serious and beautiful: a strobe-light storm at sea with rain, the calm of floating candles, the surprised look on the face of someone who’s just been reborn. Splashing water emphasizes the line of actors’ movements, extending gestures and making the entire affair seem primal, like a drama enacted in a baptismal font.
Getting the waterworks to work involves more than just inflating a kiddie pool and turning on a hose. Pool World donated a $14,000 installation, placing a 24-footlong swimming tank in a 90-seat theater. Water — 5,500 gallons of it — is heated to 89 degrees for the sometimes scantily clad actors’ comfort. A saline solution instead of costume-bleaching chlorine. Anti-condensation measures. A failsafe switch for the lights and electrical cables that run above the water. Dressers and quick-change areas for actors who have to metamorphose themselves from dry to wet and back to dry again.
Of course, it won’t hurt ticket sales that some attractive people (five women, five men, each of them playing about eight different roles) will be lounging around on that pool deck wearing not much at all.
Some of the characters have unpronounceable names (Ceyx, Erysichthon). No matter: Just let the emotional import of two-thousand-year-old myths wash over you like the healing water of a health spa.
Metamorphoses • Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, from March 25-April 17; Sat 2 pm, April 2 and April 9 only • $21; $9, student rush • Spokane Civic’s Studio Theater • Dean Ave. and Howard St. • spokanecivictheatre.com • 325-2507 • Watch a slideshow at inlander.com