By Frances Marion Givhan
The cast and crew of Sewanee’s production of Metamorphoses managed to create a magical and emotional experience in the Tennessee Williams Center’s theatre. Directed by theatre professor Peter Smith, the production consisted of twenty-three actors, playing the various Greek and Roman gods and characters that have transcended time for what they reveal about human nature. The myths range from tragedy to comedy, but – as in life – neither are exclusive. Twists in the stories can turn a humorous scene such as Midas, played by Audrey Tchoukoua (C’16), into heartbreak. The death of husband Ceyx, played by Donny Abel (C’19), could make one cry, as he cried out for his wife Alycone (Kasey Marshall [C’18]) during his shipwreck. But in the end, the myth gives hope for the endurance of love. Each scene radiates with genuine feeling, whether sorrow, hope, or love. One cannot help but empathize with the characters when the actors portray them with such profound understanding.
However, atmosphere adds as much to the sensation of the production as the acting. Even to someone who does not usually enjoy theatre, it would have been worth it to see the show for the elaborate set and costumes.
The set took into account the transformation theme of the script. At the beginning of the show, a scientist mentions that before gods created the earth, there was chaos, represented by the large lava mountain in one corner of the theatre. The rectangular stage in the middle showed how mortals tried to make earth polished and habitable, while the metal staircase opposite the lava gave the gods regality as they reigned from above. “We tried to give it the feeling that the set came up from nothing, from the floor,” said professor Dan Backlund, who designed the set and played Poseidon. Backlund said from the beginning, though, that the production would not use water, unlike most productions of Metamorphoses. “The mirrored floor that made the pool of water was more effective,” he said. It’s around this artificial pool that the gods and mortals interacted with each other, whether in harmony or absolute discord.
Projections also contributed to the immersion of the audience and actors in the scenes, particularly during such scenes as Ceyx and Alcyone, where a turbulent storm projected onto the screens inspired real fear for the lives of Ceyx and his sailors on their journey. “If we didn’t have the screens,” said Backlund, “the world wouldn’t have worked.” The corner-to-corner set and projections made it feel as if the play were consuming its audience.
Then came the third component: the costumes. Ruth Guerra (C’16) designed and created the costumes with the help of Jennifer Matthews, the costume professor; Vicki Qualls, the costume studio supervisor; and all the students who work in the department. “I really thank them for putting up with my indecisiveness and crazy ideas!” said Guerra. Guerra pulled inspiration from classical portraits and sculptures of the myths and from haute couture. “Metamorphoses is about evolution, so I wanted to blend the traditional shapes and movement of Greek clothing with more modern forms.” According to her, the most difficult costume to conceptualize was Will Burton-Edwards’ (C’18) Eros costume. Instead of wings, the costume department opted to make something similar to a feather jacket. Liz Estes (C’18) was the mastermind behind building the complicated piece.
Highlights of the performance were Max Hagan’s (C’16) hilarious interpretation of rich boy Phaeton, who takes his father Apollo’s chariot and sets the earth on fire. Tchoukuoa also portrayed Narcissus, who grew more humorous every night as he admired and interacted with his image (complete with booty smack and flexing). Little moments stood out as well, such as John Mark Lampley’s (C’16) entrance as resident god of Sewanee, Bacchus. His lighthearted, effortless movements and emotive voice caused laughter each time. And finally, the ending, when the cast whispers in unison, “Let me not outlive my own capacity to love… Let me die still loving, and so, never die.”
If you missed this performance, how dare you.