Greek Tragedy

I'd been looking forward to Nearly Naked Theatre's production of Metamorphoses ever since they announced it as part of their lineup two seasons ago. Back then, the folks at Nearly Naked wisely postponed the show once they realized that its elaborate set, which involves a full-size swimming pool right on the stage, would be too costly for a short run; that they'd never recoup their costs if the show ran for less than a month. Artistic director Damon Dering and company chose to wait until such time as they could find a more lucrative five-week slot for the show, and that time apparently is now.

I'd like very much to say that this production was worth the wait, but I cannot. Although they've paid for the pool and found the actors to fill it, the result is a weak dog paddle of a play that's lacking in production values, attractive set design, and engaging acting.

Then again, Dering (who directed) hasn't much to work with here. Mary Zimmerman's sluggish, Story Theater approach to Ovid's 3,000-year-old myths sucks the style right out of Greek mythology with over-obvious narration and a rather profound earnestness. (Her previous work includes more straightforward adaptations of The Odyssey and The Arabian Nights.) Dering clearly had a blast setting up these many drenched tableaux, and several of his choices are smart and funny. I especially liked the gently choreographed, water ballet-like falls and dips, and the several clever references to the show's oddball setting, as when Phaeton, whose father is the sun, gripes about his daddy complex to a poolside therapist while lounging on an inflatable raft. But Dering's eye for cool visuals can't compensate for Zimmerman's sleepy, pretentious script.

Neither can his cast. Johanna Carlisle is fun to watch in bits both solemn and silly, but hers are the only performances that don't grate. I often enjoy Kerry McCue, yet here I found nothing to love in her poker-faced dramatics and too loony attempts at comedy.

The rest of the players splash their way through scene after scene yet make no waves with their emoting, especially James Ray, a giant pink eraser of a man whose sheepish delivery made it clear he wished he were anywhere but up on that waterlogged stage.

At least the second act was easier to watch, because the row of theater queens seated in front of us all filed out at intermission, never to return. I eavesdropped as they headed for the parking lot. "It was a bunch of short stories, not one long one," one of them said to another. "That's why you had a hard time following it."

"Oh," the first one replied. "I wondered why the characters' names kept changing."

One can't blame Zimmerman or Dering for an audience's lack of comprehension, and I genuinely wish that Dering's enthusiasm for this wiggy adaptation of ancient mythology were enough to sell it. But it's apparent within minutes of this soggy muddle's creaky commencement that its cast and crew are in over their heads.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela