Mason’s ‘Metamorphoses’ Does Ancient Poem Justice

May 3, 2018 10:15 AM0 comments

THE POOL CENTRAL to the play was cleverly constructed by Mason’s technical director John Ballou (Photo: Carol Sly)

The student team who shared talents and resources with the professional staff of the George Mason High School theater arts department made a big splash, in fact a number of them, in its delightful production of the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” at the GMHS auditorium last weekend.

In another first for the school, the multi-talented technical director John Ballou crafted nothing short of a modestly-sized man-made lake off the front of the stage for the production, as called for in the script of the play based on the first century AD Ovid’s epic poem.

The original work, which had a profound impact on western culture with Dante and the rise of the Renaissance, is composed of 15 books and over 250 myths, and in the modern theatrical version by Mary Zimmerman is condensed to an hour and a half of mythic and philosophically-profound vignettes of magical transformations that provided the context for the predominantly toga-clad Mason High student actors to romp and fully exercise their considerable talents.

Following a cosmology-centered introduction, the real fun started with senior Michael Curtin’s big cannonball-like plunge into the “lake” that, despite setting off a few front rows of audience seating as a precaution, nonetheless splashed some drops onto some (like me) seated in front.

That was part of the myth about King Midas (Will Langan) who accidentally turns his own daughter (Grace Tarpgaard) into solid gold, and into a lengthy journey off stage to reverse the consequence of his greedy excess. And we’re off!

In total, 11 episodes are presented, and among the many highlights were the outcome of Erysichthon’s (Miles Jackson) compulsive Hunger (Emily Ives) and the amazingly skilled Vertumnus (Kevin Hong’s) highly-energetic but frustrated wooing of Pomona (Zoe Cunniffe).

All in all, episodes were of how love is lost and gained while heroes and heroines return from death and sometimes go back again all the while transforming into flora, fauna, the elderly or the young. Familiar myths included Midas, Narcissus, Orpheus and Eurydice and Phaeton.

Kudos to all. It was an amazing show that included costume design by Delaney Theisz and an original score by Adam Hinden and Nick Fellows. Listing the entire cast would be daunting. A few included Michael Curtin (Silenus and Phaeton), Will Langan (Midas), Morgan O’Keefe (Bacchus), Charlie Boland (Ceyx and Eros), Megan Hayes (Alcyone), Elizabeth Reid (Aphrodite), Miles Jackson (Erysichthon, Apollo, Philemon), Emily Ives (Hunger), Angela Dilao (Ceres and Psyche), and Kevin Hong (Vertumnus) with apologies for others not included here.

But, oh, that lake (or, pool, if you prefer)! Director Shawn Northrip, who brought out the best in his large cast, told the News-Press, “The script specifies the need for a pool, although the licensing company, I’ve heard, allows people to do it without the pool. When I thought about doing the show, I considered other options: fog or haze, light effects, a ball pit, but ultimately anything else felt wrong. I mentioned it to our awesomely supportive principal Matt Hills, who kept his streak encouraging me to go for it, although I’m not sure he realized what I actually meant until he saw the pool in place. Following his approval, I checked in with out technical director, the talented John Ballou, who made it a reality.”

Northrip continued, “Meanwhile, the cast set about to rehearse the play, and even they did not quite appreciate how it would work until the first time we had what I called a “wet rehearsal.” Michael Curtin did the first big water effect. He fearlessly tossed himself into the water and soaked me. The cheers from the cast were incredible. By the end of that rehearsal, we all could tell we were working on something really cool and unique.”

Northrip explained, “The pool itself was basically a large, reinforced wooden box that was lined with carpets. Inside, we placed a heavy duty pond liner and Mr. Ballou had to special-order. The crew folded it meticulously to fit the stairs and frame. We pumped water in and out daily so we could scrub and disinfect the pool. We kept the water right around 100 degrees so the cast was very comfortable in it.”

He added, “The crew built a tiny hiding place under the platform that allowed an actor, Charlie Boland, to swim out of sight and appear to hold his breath for an unreasonably long amount of time. His re-emergence after 10 minutes elicited gasps from the audience.”

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