Swimming in Myth

So I’ve been hearing a bit of buzz, a bit of the scuttlebutt if you will, about this new show here at the National Arts Center.  Got a swimming pool, they say, and all that that implies…a good time, so the story goes…the coolest, funnest show I’ve ever seen at the NAC is what they…no, no, that’s wrong. That’s not what THEY say, that’s what I’LL say, a few paragraphs from now.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was looking forward to a good night out, NAC premiere night (yay, free food!) with my best GCTC box office gal Jackie by my side, requisite Starbucks coffee in hand.  Does life get any better?  Well, how could a comic book lad like myself go wrong when the show in question for the night actually had Metamorpho in the title?

And if you can tell me which previous review I used this picture in, then by gum, I'll give you a cookie.
And if you can tell me which previous review I used this picture in, then by gum, I’ll give you a cookie.

Yes, it was time for the premiere of Mary Zimmerman’s METAMORPHOSES, based on the legends and tales of that randy rapscallion Ovid.  And, having read some of his stuff (a pretty funny bugger, he was) so I had high hopes for the show.  Nevermind that this was the NAC English Theatre directorial debut of new Artistic Director Jillian Keiley, although that was a pretty cool footnote, to be sure.  Although the real cool wouldn’t kick in until I finally got a look at that set, designed by Bretta Gerecke and doubtless built by a dedicated army of doozers because…oy, she’s a beauty.  The rumours, it turns out, are true, the NAC has built a gorgeous aquatic set comprised almost entirely of twin pools of water, one more of a wading pool (encompassing the space usually occupied by that half-moon of seats right up front), and backed by a towering glass-faced tank with glittering crystalline railings and walkways.  And don’t worry, plenty of the onstage action takes place in there, with splashing and frolicking aplenty.  The impressive cast is, it turns out, quite comfortable getting wet, and read into that what you will.

Presenting legends of old one after another, and getting gloriously soaked doing it, the NAC gang puts on what may be the most memorable show in years.  Kicking off with a merry retelling of the tale of greedy King Midas (played with great whimsy by Joey Tremblay…and take note, every actor plays multiple roles in this production), and into the tragic tale of Ceyx and Alcyone (Ishan Dave and Petrina Bromley, making me a little misty myself), the show goes from one myth to another with almost perfect flow (pun intended) and no intermission.  The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice gets two back-to-back tellings, the Ovid AND Rilke versions, and holy Hell can Ryan Allen sing…one can understand quite well why the Gods are moved. Rachelle Casseus is perfect as his Underworld-bound love, with Andy Massingham (who earlier in the show proved he can still pratfall with the best of them) lending his terrific presence to the role of Hades.

A major highlight of the show comes when Ishan Dave as insecure God Vertumnus tries to woo nature-loving Pomona (Gemma James Smith), but she won’t have anything to do with him and his disguises.  To tempt her, he tells her the story of another one who tried to deny Aphrodite (a glowing Rosemary Dunsmore), a gal named Myrrah.   Played with devastating sincerity by the lady Alix Sideris, Myrrah soundly refuses all suitors until an annoyed Aphrodite curses her, making her fall madly in love with her own Father.  It’s the most unsettlingy sexy depiction of incest you’re ever likely to see on a major stage in Ottawa, folks, I’m calling it.  And they use that pool to full effect, no fooling.  Yow.

It does have plenty of light moments as well…a therapy session featuring Apollo’s disgruntled son Phaeton is comedy gold, and all-consuming King Erysichthon (David Francis) getting his just desserts from an angry goddess.  The emotional and picture-perfect finale is the icing on the cake of what may be the coolest, funnest show I’ve ever seen at the NAC.  Wonderful performances from a cast clearly having the time of their lives, and a set that gives new meaning to the magic of theatre.  Special shoutout to a top-of-show cellphone gag that I swear was put in there just for Eric Coates.  Gotta praise the technical side too…gorgeous lights from designer Leigh van Ardy, music from Jonathan Monro (and almost all of it performed onstage by the actors themselves, using instruments almost too beautiful to be real)…everything works like a charm, and comes together for a seriously must-see show.

A quick assault on the opening night afterparty later and it was time to go…I did, after all, have this post to write before returning to the NAC the next day for ANOTHER show.   Ah well, it was about time I stopped slacking off anyhow. And METAMORPHOSES is the best beginning to a jam-packed February I coulda hoped for.  Get on out to it!!  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

PS: I don’t want to trick anyone…Rex Mason, the Element Man is NOT involved in this production.  Sorry to disappoint.

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