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EMAV Review: Fluid 'Metamorphoses' views ancient myth with modern eyes ★★★★☆

★★★★☆ - Delicious

Nevada Conservatory Theatre's elegant presentation of "Metamorphoses" is an evocative, labyrinthine journey to an otherworldly place from the moment we step through the door. A dark curtained path leads up a ramp and opens out into the cavernous playing space, and with a still pool of water taking center stage we get the sense we've emerged into a mother's womb. This is where life begins.

Emotion and intuition. Sexuality and mysticism. Transformation. The symbolic and mutable quality of water is what gave Mary Zimmerman the idea to make it a focal point of her 1998 play, which takes us back to the beginning of the first century and Roman poet Ovid's epic "Metamophoses," his narrative of fifteen books which explores over 250 transformational myths. Based on David R. Slavitt's 1994 free verse translation of the piece, she wrote it for a story theater style, ensemble cast who narrate and enact a series of vignettes which incorporate whimsical modern elements to show the universality and timelessness of the stories.

Water also represents danger, both figuratively and literally. Skilled Director Michael Lugering has crafted refined staging for his excellent, focused actors who continually move in and out of the pool, magically appearing and then disappearing, dancing and doing battle in carefully choreographed sequences.

Performers also smoothly navigate the slick surface of the often wet deck, which further limits the action. Unusual safety issues were probably a huge consideration for technicians like Michele Anderson Beck, whose set design recalls the mosaic floors of a Roman Bath in the vein of a muted Vincent Van Gogh painting, and Javier Moreno-Bothwell, who evokes both the warm sun, cold moon, and stormy ocean in his lights.

The show opens with a welcoming scene that reminds of a Greco-Roman gymnasium, the actors performing a cheerful, angular dance (no choreographer credited) to percussive, tribal music (designed by Doniel Richardson) in their vintage inspired, colorful bathing suits (designed by Hailey Eakle). Narrators then explain how mankind emerged from the primordial soup.

Some vignettes carry more emotional immediacy than others. The eerily beautiful, plaintively performed story of Orpheus (Brandon Dawson) and Eurydice (Tola K. Lawal) throws an unforgettable, emotional punch. On their wedding day, Eurydice is killed by a snake and Orpheus crosses the River Styx into the masochistic Underworld to bring her back. Hades (Jesse Bourque) allows Eurydice to return with him, but only if he walks ahead of her and Hermes (Keach Siriani Madden) and doesn't look back until they've fully ascended. Inevitably Orpheus turns his gaze, and Eurydice is snatched away by Hermes, gone forever. Orpheus is doomed to relive that fateful moment, and Zimmerman also incorporates a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke which plaintively tells the story from Eurydice's point of view. The wonderful Dawson, Lawal, and Siriani Madden enact each version over and over to stunning, poignant effect.

When Ceyx (Joshua Caleb Horton) leaves Alcyone (Isabella Rooks) to conquer new lands across the ocean, she laments that he will never return. A stylized dance performed by the Oarsmen morphs into a funny, strobe lit battle against Poseidon and his Henchman, who use giant squirt guns to conquer Ceyx and his men. Rooks is particularly moving as the mournful Alcyone, especially as she uses her dress to transform into a seabird.

Myrrha (Kristina Wells) shuns suitors and Aphrodite (Lawal) who curses her to fall in love with her father Cinyras (Nate Marble). Lugering handles their disturbing relationship tastefully by having Wells and Marble perform a series of balletic liftsin the serene pool of water to represent their sexual interludes, and Wells really puts her heart out there in the role of the young nymph.

Lugering keeps the performances mostly natural and restrained so the show doesn't become too campy. Some vignettes, however, might benefit from a bit more exaggeration, such as the tale about the bullied, spoiled Phaeton (Siriani Madden) the son of sun god Apollo (Delius Doherty). Wearing sunglasses Phaeton floats on a raft as he laments his fate to his Therapist (Ashlie Elaine Carter), while Apollo comments and sings from the balcony above. It's a funny piece, and it would be nice to see the capable actors take their characters even further into camp.

The entire cast gives it their all, and includes Horton tearing up the audience in a bit as Erysichthon's Mother; Garrison K. Quizon as a creepy Hunger; Sarah Rice as wood nymph Pomona being courted by a goofy Bobby Lang as Vertumnus; and Ruliko Cronin, Kristina Wells, and Kyara Isis Williams doing good work as Narrators.

Actors dance, sing, and even play handheld percussive instruments to make "Metamorphoses" a transformative, timeless experience.

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