How wet is the Arena Stage’s ‘Metamorphoses’?

February 9, 2013
Matt McClain / For The Washington Post
Matt McClain / For The Washington Post

Nelson Pressley soaks into all the watery details of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” here. But the depth of this fantastic production that just opened at the Arena Stage is hard to fathom until you see it.

Or feel it, as I did opening night.

The entire play — loosely adapted from Ovid — is performed in a vast, shallow pool of water surrounded on all four sides by the audience. Some seats near the stage — and some seats are very near the stage — come with plush brown bath towels.

Truth be told, the prospect of donning a moldy old towel didn’t appeal to me. (Years later, I can still catch a whiff of those clammy ponchos on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls.) But no worries: the towels at the Arena Stage are fresh and clean.

I sat on the West side, in the front row, next to one of the four entrances the actors use (West A110). So far as I could tell, it was the wettest seat in the house. . . .

When Alcyone cries out against the loss of her husband, Ceyx, I got splashed. When Erysichthon frantically paws at the ground for something — anything! — to quell his insatiable hunger, I got drenched. And when Baucis and Philemon are transformed into a pair of intertwined trees so that they can stay together forever, I started tearing up, which didn’t help any.

Afterwards, it was 30 degrees outside as I walked to the Metro, and my feet were wet, but I didn’t mind at all.

charlesr@washpost.com

 

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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