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Theater Review: 'Metamorphases'

Weekend!Arts: Greek gods give old lessons, but with an iPod
by: ©2006 OWEN CAREY, Myrrha (Kae-Ling Chung) succumbs to her desire for her father (Gilberto Martin del Campo) in a tale about the consequences of ignoring the gods.

A society, being made up of only humans, can be forgiven certain transgressions. Ignoring the lessons of history is not one of them.

The best thing about Mary Zimmerman's Tony-winning adaptation of Ovid's 2,000-year-old story cycle 'Metamorphoses' is not that she nudges the writer's work so cleverly into the modern age. It's that she makes plain the power of the tales.

Even without the 4 feet of water planned for an onstage pool - it sprang a leak 36 hours before opening night - Zimmerman's updates provide some of the high points of the production, which opened at Artists Repertory Theatre last weekend.

Andres Alcala's King Midas adopts the stylish linen suit and oily countenance of a 21st-century deal maker. Gods puff on cigarettes through their masks. And the play doesn't really get into high gear until Wade McCollum, wearing gold lamé swim trunks and an iPod, begins a valley dude lament to his therapist about his absent father, Apollo.

The modernizing touches serve to inject just the right degree of levity into the airspace around the venerable fables. Zimmerman's vision, Randall Stuart's sure direction and Artists Repertory's excellent cast provide enough of the language and imagery of Ovid's time to give the stories a well-tested authority:

A man forsakes his family in his lust for wealth. Another disregards the sanctity of nature. A family receives grace through selflessness and modesty. These are outdated lessons?

At the close of the play, Midas reappears, intent on redemption. The sense that the heartsick king might just reclaim the daughter he turned to gold and be whole again is too much for some in the audience, who are audibly near tears.

Artists Repertory's fine production - at once delightful and sobering - reminds us that most of the guidance we'll ever need has been with us for the longest time. Not that the old gods were any better than the ones we have now, just that the stories they inspired feel a lot more authentic than newer narratives that tell us how to believe, whom to love and what to fear.

- Eric Bartels

8 p.m. FRIDAY and SATURDAY, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. SUNDAY, 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, through Oct. 15, Artist Repertory Theatre main stage, 1516 S.W. Alder St., 503-241-1278, $20-$40