Magic Is Afoot in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Twinbill of “The Tempest” and “Metamorphoses”

The PRC cast for "The Tempest" includes (from left) Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Caliban, Julia Gibson as Stephano (standing) and John Allore as Trinculo (photo by Michal Daniel)
The PRC cast for “The Tempest” includes (from left) Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Caliban, Julia Gibson as Stephano (standing) and John Allore as Trinculo (photo by Michal Daniel)

 There is magic afoot at PlayMakers Repertory Company, which will stage a twinbill of incomparable English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare’s valedictory play, The Tempest (1610-11), and Chicago playwright and director and Northwestern University professor Mary Zimmerman’s 1998 play, Metamorphoses, based on David R. Slavitt’s 1994 free-verse translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid, a narrative poem written in Latin around 8 A.D. by the Roman poet Ovid (nee Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 B.C.-17 or 18 A.D.).

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s professional-theater-in-residence will perform these plays, in rotating repertory, from Nov. 2nd to Dec. 8th in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art on a fantastical set — complete with a massive indoor pool containing 15 tons of water — co-designed by McKay Coble and Jan Chambers, who also co-created the eye-catching costumes for these fanciful shows performed in the style of “magical realism.”

PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Joseph Haj and Dominique Serrand, the co-artistic director of The Moving Company of Saint Paul, MN, will co-direct these vivacious versions of The Tempest and The Metamorphoses.

“I first read The Metamorphoses in 2003 and shortly thereafter (before my tenure at PlayMakers) directed it with graduate students here at UNC as a workshop production without the pool,” recalls Joe Haj. “Then I directed it professionally (with a pool) in 2005 at the Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville, TN.”

In May 1996, Northwestern University — where playwright Mary Zimmerman teaches — produced an early version of Metamorphoses, entitled Six Myths. The full-length play, which ingeniously retells 10 Ovid stories, including the myth of Midas, all set in a watery milieu, made its world premiere in October 1998 at the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago. Then Metamorphoses opened Off-Broadway on Oct. 9, 2001 at the Second Stage Theatre, where it closed on Dec. 2, 2001. The play won the 2002 Lucille Lortel and the 2002 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play and the 2002 Drama League Award for Best Play. Adapter/director Mary Zimmerman also won the 2001-02 OBIE Award and the 2002 Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk Awards for Best Director.

On March 4, 2002, Metamorphoses moved to the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway, where it racked up 400 performances before closing on Feb. 16, 2003. Metamorphoses was nominated for the 2002 Tony Award® for Best Play, and Mary Zimmerman won the 2002 Tony for Best Direction of a Play.

Jo Haj says, “Ever since Dominique Serrand’s production of Imaginary Invalid in 2012, I have wanted to not only have him back at PlayMakers, but to collaborate with him. We were both interested in The Tempest and Metamorphoses as individual plays; but the more we spoke, the more interested we became in the potential conversation that the plays could have with one another.”

Julie Fishell plays the sorceror Prospero and Maren Searle plays the mischievous sprite Ariel in "The Tempest" (photo by Michal Daniel)
Julie Fishell plays the sorceror Prospero and Maren Searle plays the mischievous sprite Ariel in “The Tempest” (photo by Michal Daniel)

The Tempest stars PRC mainstay Julie Fishell as the exiled sorceror and rightful duke of Milan Prospero, Caroline Strange as his wide-eyed innocent daughter Miranda, Maren Searle as the mischievous spirit Ariel, and Jeffrey Blair Cornell as that lecherous son of a witch Caliban. (Ariel and Caliban are misbegotten creatures of the desert island where Prospero and his daughter are marooned, far from Milan, where his dukedom was usurped by his treacherous brother, Antonio (Patrick McHugh.)

Haj says, “… The Tempest begins with a storm that moors a ship carrying Alonso (Kathryn Hunter-Williams), the King of Naples; his son Ferdinand (Brandon Garegnani); Antonio (Patrick McHugh), the Duke of Milan; and their subjects, Sebastian (Gregory DeCandia), Gonzalo (Ray Dooley), Stephano (Julia Gibson), and Trinculo (John Allore). The storm has been orchestrated by Prospero (Julie Fishell).”

Nilan Johnson and Caroline Strange star in "Metamorphoses" (photo by Michal Daniel)
Nilan Johnson and Caroline Strange star in “Metamorphoses” (photo by Michal Daniel)

Metamorphoses is an episodic ensemble piece that stars Tania Chelnov as the Second Woman, Carey Cox as the Third Woman, Julia Gibson as the Sixth Woman, Maren Searle as the First Woman, Caroline Strange as the Fourth Woman, Ariel Yoder as the Fifth Woman, Nathaniel P. Claridad as the Fourth Man, Jeffrey Blair Cornell as the Second Man, Gregory DeCandia as the Fifth Man, Brandon Garagnani as the Sixth Man, Nilan Johnson as the First Man, and Patrick McHugh as the Third Man.

In The Tempest, “Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan; and he and his daughter Miranda (Caroline Strange) have been exiled on this island for 12 years,” Haj explains. “Their only companions are Ariel (Maren Searle) and Caliban (Jeffrey Blair Cornell), creatures both of whom are servants to Prospero.”

“The storm sets in motion Prospero’s plan for vengeance on his brother Antonio,” says Haj. “Once on the island, Ferdinand is separated from the rest of the crew, Ariel is sent to torment the castaways, and Caliban entreats the King’s fools Trinculo and Stephano to murder Prospero and take the island for themselves. I won’t spoil the play by telling you how it all ends.”

Joe Haj says, “Metamorphoses is Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of selected myths from Ovid’s narrative poem. This is really an ensemble piece that explores our capacity to love and to change. Some of the tales might be more familiar to our audience than others, such as Midas (Jeffrey Blair Cornell) and Orpheus (Patrick McHugh) and Eurydice (Carey Cox); but all of them open up a conversation about the significance of myth, poetry, faith, and reason.”

“In both plays, we are being asked to find great humor and great violence — and you cannot have one without the other,” claims co-director Dominique Serrand. “If we laugh, we want to be surprised. We want to laugh because we recognize some element of our humanity. In The Tempest, we do not have to like Prospero, or any of the characters; but we have to believe that they are capable of great violence, in order to understand that they are capable of regret or change.”

PlayMakers Rep's cast for "Metamorphoses" includes Brandon Garegnani and Arielle Yoder (photo by Michal Daniel)
PlayMakers Rep’s cast for “Metamorphoses” includes Brandon Garegnani and Arielle Yoder (photo by Michal Daniel)

Co-director Joseph Haj adds, “With these plays, there are several key factors that we won’t be able to test until we are in the theater. In essence we are rehearsing plays set in water on dry land — this is particularly the case with Metamorphoses. We are doing two very complicated shows in rep with the same company of actors. Making sure each play is its own entity and that the work in each production is distinct is important. In Metamorphoses, Mary Zimmerman gives us beautiful versions of Ovid’s stories — the challenge and thrill of that is finding the whole and not creating something that feels like a revue or pastiche of disparate elements.

In addition to producer and co-director Joseph Haj, co-director Dominique Serrand, and scenic and costume designers Jan Chambers and McKay Coble, the creative team for The Tempest and Metamorphoses includes production manager Michael Rolleri, assistant director/Drama League directing fellow Nicole A. Watson, lighting designer Marcus Dilliard, assistant lighting designer Jesse Cogswell, associate costume designer Jade Bettin, composers/musicians Ari Picker and Emma Nadeau of Lost in the Trees, sound designer/engineer Robert Dagit, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Craig Turner, dramaturgs Adam Versényi (The Tempest) and Mark Perry (Metamorphoses), and stage managers Charles K. Bayang and Sarah Smiley.

“For this production,” says Joe Haj, “two of our resident designers, who are also UNC faculty members, are working together on the set and costume design. Jan Chambers and McKay Coble have been working tirelessly for months on a set design that will accommodate and enliven both plays.

“While we have a unified set for both plays,” he adds, “several features of the set change depending on the play. We have two pools built into the set and part of the process is discovering how to move around and in them in a way that is artful, simple, and supports the storytelling.

“Our costume shop is building most of our costumes for The Tempest,” says Haj. “The designs distinguish the world of the Italian court and that of the island. For the court, we are playing with lush, rich fabric and texture to contrast the more subdued and simple tones of Prospero and Miranda. Furthermore, in designing Caliban and Ariel we are finding the animal and elemental gestures for these two human/other-worldly creatures. The world is vibrant and varied.

“In Metamorphoses,” Haj notes, “the look is more contemporary, simple, and elegant. As so much of the action happens in the water, we have had to design keeping in mind the image of people who will be moving through water.”

Haj adds, “For The Tempest the lights are very clean. Very bright. It’s not a shadowy world. Desaturated color. Sand and salt blasted. Very transparent. We see everything. Metamorphoses has more color and more opening and closing down of the space….

“This has been an exciting project for us at PlayMakers,” reports Joe Haj, “and I cannot speak enough about all of the collaborators involved in this. We are also working with the composers and musicians Ari Picker and Emma Nadeau (of Lost in the Trees), who are creating, and will be performing, the original music for these productions. To have them in attendance in rehearsal and to be able to have a company work so intimately together has been a gift.”

SECOND OPINION: Nov. 1st Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: (Note: You must register to read this article); Oct. 31st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Gabriella Cirelli: and Oct. 15th preview by Jaleesa Jones: Oct. 16th Chapel Hill, NC UNC College of Arts & Sciences preview by Connie Mahan:

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE TEMPEST at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 6 Previews; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 Opening Night; 2 p.m. Nov. 10; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 and 15; 2 p.m. Nov. 16; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 and 20; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 and Dec. 3, 4, and 7; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8; and METAMORPHOSES at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 and 5 Previews; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 Opening Night; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, 12, 13, and 16; 2 p.m. Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21, 22, 26, and 27; 2 p.m. Dec. 1; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and 6; and 2 p.m. Dec. 7 — both in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), except $55 on Opening-Night performances (Nov. 7th and th) and $15-per-ticket (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances. There are also discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311,, or


The Tempest:




BLOG: PlayMakers Page to Stage:



NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be a gala reception after the $55-per-person 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7th, and Friday, Nov. 8th, Opening-Night performances of The Tempest and Metamorphoses, respectively.

NOTE 3: There will be an All-Access Performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12th, for Metamorphoses and Tuesday, Nov. 12th, for The Tempest.

NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team after the Wednesday, Nov. 13th, performance of Metamorphoses and the Wednesday, Nov. 20th, and Sunday, Nov. 24th, performances of The Tempest.

NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performances at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16th, performance of The Tempest and the 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7th, performance of Metamorphoses. (for more information, click

NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7th, performance of Metamorphoses and the 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8th performance of The Tempest.


The Tempest (1610-11 play): (Wikipedia).

The Script: (University of Virginia Library’s Electronic Text Center).

Study Guide: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): (Wikipedia).

Metamorphoses (1998 play): (Northwestern University Press) and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago).

Mary Zimmerman (Chicago playwright and director, born 1960): (Lookingglass Theatre Company bio) and (Wikipedia).

Joseph Haj (co-director of both shows and producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company): (PlayMakers Rep Bio) and (Facebook page).

Dominique Serrand (co-director of both shows and co-artistic director of The Moving Company of Saint Paul, MN): (PlayMakers Rep Bio) and (Facebook page).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).