PRC’s “Metamorphoses” Struggles to Stay Afloat

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

In Metamorphoses, Chicago playwright Mary Zimmerman created many actors’ wet dream — quite literally. In general, it’s often incredibly exciting to be cast in a show; but when you have the prospect of playing in a big pool of water while you do it, the anticipation level ratchets up a few notches.

When I did the show back in 2009 with the late (and sorely missed) Raleigh Ensemble Players, it was an actual labor of love: nine months of rehearsal for a show that seemed like it may not actually happen. But when it did, and we finally dipped our toes into that 5,000-gallon pool, it was all worth it.

But, beyond just the spectacle of the pool, Zimmerman also has woven some of the Greek tales of Ovid into a beautiful, touching piece of theater that is at times hilarious and deeply moving, while certain other stories are very hard to watch due to their subject matter. But it all has a brilliant payoff at the end, and it is storytelling at its finest.

When you have the right set of actors under the right direction, the production lingers with you long past exiting the theater. I saw the Broadway mounting of the show in 2002, and I held on to it for many years afterwards.

One of the biggest upsets in the current PlayMakers Repertory Company production is that there are emotional depths that are never reached; even the darkest of stories seem to fall flat. The show was a brisk 80 minutes, though I would have preferred an extra 10 minutes or so, if it meant the actors could mine the text a little deeper. It felt as though many of the performers were out to play for a laugh, as opposed to playing the emotional truth of the moment. Stories that carry emotional weight seemed glossed over.

Co-directors Joseph Haj and Dominique Serrand are less successful here in their staging than they are in The Tempest. The pool seemed underutilized, and a full downstage section of it was used in just one story. The final tale — for me, the greatest one — is of an old couple that please the Gods and they are granted one wish: they decide to die at the same moment, so as to never have to live without the other. The Gods grant their wish; and when their moment comes, they turn into a pair of trees whose branches intertwine. The cast whispers their last words of, “Let me die still loving and so never die.” I was saddened to hear a child in the audience whisper to their mother, “It’s so creepy!” But it’s certainly not meant to be. It should be a marvelous punch to your gut. It wasn’t. The couple was lost upstage amongst the rest of the cast.

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

Overall, the show is visually beautiful; but the much of the talent on the boards was mediocre. Co-designers Jan Chambers and McKay Coble built a magnificent set that works a bit better for Metamorphoses than it does for The Tempest, and they dressed their ensemble beautifully.

Musicians Emma Nadeau and Ari Picker are used more here than in their repertory companion; and in Metamorphoses they really shine, accenting and underscoring with beautiful and haunting melodies, and effects that truly add a needed flare.

The spectacle of Metamorphoses is lovely to see; but you could easily buy a ticket to The Tempest, the stronger of the two reps, and get a good feel for it as well.

SECOND OPINION: Nov. 11th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks:; Nov. 10th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Jeffrey Rossman:; Nov. 9th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail:; 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: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 3rd Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents METAMORPHOSES at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 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 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 $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




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 an All-Access Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12th, for Metamorphoses.

NOTE 3: There will be a FREE post-show discussion with members of the creative team after the Wednesday, Nov. 13th, performance of Metamorphoses.

NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performances at the 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7th, performance of Metamorphoses (for more information, click

NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor a FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussion after the 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7th, performance of Metamorphoses.


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

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago).

Mary Zimmerman (playwright): (Lookingglass Theatre Company bio) and (Wikipedia).

Joseph Haj (co-director): (PlayMakers Rep Bio) and (Facebook page).

Dominique Serrand (co-director): (PlayMakers Rep Bio) and (Facebook page).


Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He played free-spirited speller Leaf Coneybear in Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh‘s April 24-May 5 production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and he directed Raleigh Little Theatre‘s Sept. 6-29 presentation of Art. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click