When it opened in Chicago at Northwestern University, no one was expecting it to take New York by storm, capping an off-Broadway run with an extended stay at Broadway's Circle in the Square. Its eloquent staging and sly sense of humor proved that, contrary to a popular adage, you can make money underestimating the public. And the Missouri Repertory Theatre is the latest place you can soak up this moist treasure.
At the center of Dan Ostling's gorgeous set is a 2,000-gallon pool measuring 20 feet by 30 feet. At the rear of the pool hangs a backdrop of a cloudy sky and an imposing wooden door; suspended above is a mammoth chandelier. If Zimmerman's choice of classic myths weren't so savvy, the pool would be gratuitous and ripe for mockery. Instead, it's the perfect arena for a cast of characters that includes Narcissus stuck to his own reflection, Poseidon and Aphrodite, portrayed here by Antoinette Broderick as a red hot mama.
Among the ten or so myths in the show, the story of Midas (Raymond Fox) is the first in the pool. Though he talks a good game, saying that "family is what really matters," his actions speak louder. He's ravenously greedy, and while urgently repelling his daughter's pleas for attention, his wish to have everything he touches turn to gold creates a tragedy for both of them. The scene is breathtakingly theatrical with a timeless message: Be careful what you wish for.
The show is sexy -- the cast is quite attractive -- and, more important, intensely erotic. If water is said to be calming, here it's the opposite: an invitation to indulge the id. For the story of how Aphrodite convinces Myrrha (Sun Mee Chomet) to seduce her own father, the eroticism is both disturbing and unhinging. It may perturb activists for blaming the victim, but it's still an honest acknowledgement of any home's sexual tension.
Metamorphoses touches on incest, loss and the subtle dance between love and the soul, the latter played out between a contemplative Psyche (Broderick) and an Eros (James McKay) naked but for his downy wings. The cast then gathers in the pool, surrounded by floating candles. It sends a wish out to the audience like a Thanksgiving blessing -- may you find both your essence and your orgasm. Of course, it's not that vulgar, but, like the rest of the evening, it hits you more below the belt than above the neck. It's a beckoning and hugely successful aphrodisiac.