Modesto Junior College is making a big splash with its new production of "The Metamorphoses," Ovid's collection of ancient Greek myths.
The centerpiece of the show, which opened Thursday at Cabaret West Theatre, is scenic designer Ty Van Helton's magnificent onstage pool filled with nine tons of water and equipped with a waterfall, tunnel and a rain shower. The actors don't just perform they swim, float and cavort in the pool just a few feet from the audience, which surrounds them on three sides.
There's never been a theatrical production like it in the Modesto area in at least the past decade. It's a magical experience that transports audiences to another world, where gods and goddesses change humans into trees, bring people back from the dead and grant wishes.
Guest director Jim Johnson, the retired dean of the college's arts, humanities and communications division, has worked hard to make sure every detail is perfect, from the candles, flowers and white drapes in the lobby to the glowing planets suspended from the theater ceiling and Kevin Saunders' softly beautiful lighting design.
Costume designer Anne Shanto blends ancient and modern elements, with some characters wearing togas and wreaths on their heads and others wearing modern suits, a scientist's lab coat or swim trunks. Narrators set up each myth and sometimes break in with commentary on the possible meaning of the stories. The tale of separated lovers Orpheus and Eurydice, as an example, is interpreted variously as a story about how love always ends, how time moves forward, or the loss that can come when artists question their work.
An exotic recorded score that includes shades of the Middle Eastern and tribal beats helps create emotion throughout the show. Scenes of intimacy are portrayed through romantic modern dance choreographed by Lori Bryhni.
This is a true ensemble piece, with every member of the 20-person cast contributing more or less equally to the production. It's nice that all the students get a chance to shine rather than just a few. In this Mary Zimmerman adaptation of Ovid's work, there are moments that are deeply moving and moments that are funny.
Jelani Brown, who plays Orpheus, is heartbreaking as he watches his bride, Eurydice (Roni Espinoza), get carried back into the underworld after he tries to rescue her. It's touching to watch Alcyone (Delawna McKinney) beg her husband, Ceyx (Eric Von Kauffman), not to go to sea for two months and then watch him die tragically in an ocean storm. That storm scene is one of the most dramatic of the show, with Poseidon and his henchmen dramatically arriving through the tunnel and then attacking Ceyx and his sailors.
Shane Meyers gets lots of laughs as Vertumnus, who wears ridiculous disguises to get the attention of the lovely Pomona, played by Kloii Hollis. The humorous high point of the show is the interaction between Phaeton (Justin Chapman) and his father, Apollo (Stephen Larson and Justin Su'esu'e, alternating in the role), who sings his fatherly advice.
"The Metamorphoses" is beyond a doubt the most exciting and interesting local production this year so far. With only two weekends of performances, the show's poolside seats should fill up fast. Make sure you don't miss the boat on this one.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313.
MODESTO JUNIOR COLLEGE'S 'THE METAMORPHOSES'
RATING: * * * *
WHERE: Cabaret West, Modesto Junior College West Campus, Collegiate Lane, off Brink Avenue
WHEN: 2 and 7:30 p.m. today; 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 16
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes, no intermission
TICKETS: $10 general, $8 students and seniors 62 and older
INFORMATION: (209) 575-6776 or www.mjc.tix.com
* * * * Excellent; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor