Metamorphoses: All praise the muse of poetry

Vaughn Jones & Leslie Brownlee as Eros & Psyche - the perfect couple. Photo: Pink Monkey

Does the modern world disappoint you at times? Especially when a consumerist society suggests that bought beauty is equal to integrity? Or when liberalism (a big hug to JS Mill) has been subverted by infantilism?

Does it annoy you that you are part of a culture where people claim all their pleasures (rights) and dodge their pains (responsibilities and misfortunes) while masking their feelings in irony?

If so, let me refer you to the writings of ancient peoples, who (without the calming distraction of cars, electricity, MP3s and email) sought to explain and account for the terrifying vagaries of the human condition - lost love, slain hope, insatiable greed and self-doubt.

As an antithesis, the ancients would ask you to consider myth, which Vancouver-based Metamorphoses Theatre Company's production of Chicago playwright Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses suggests "is a public dream." And I encourage you to appreciate myth's value. Not just because Ovid (upon whose work Zimmerman's play is hung) was Greek and wrote his works at the height of a civilization that informs our own. But because its discourse is much more beautiful and wise than the conversations about fear and desire that we currently engage in.

Consider the following (and you must forgive me my misquotes as I was listening, absorbing and scribbling as the play cast me to and fro):

"There was neither reason nor order until a god sparked." In MTC's production, that god lit a cigarette. And we all laughed.

Yet, what an idea...

And then, since the world (after its assemblage) was missing words, man was created to fill the void with speech.

And again, what a proud and marvellous idea...

Contemporary humanity often fritters its potential for genuine solution away on semantics and position-based debate (i.e. whether to give aid to starving nations or force those nations to change ruling regimes, or whether to support a world-based sporting event or to focus attention on human rights). In contrast, the authentic application of language and commitment to address life's 'big questions' is a fundamental issue.

Even in personal matters, we often waste the opportunity to comfort. For example, the following could pass as a common 21st century correspondence:


Dear Aphrodite (Goddess of Love),

I'm dating a man, Eros, whom I love and who loves me. But we have some problems. First off, he won't let me see him in the light but I've been to bed with him often. And then, his mother is always meddling in our love life. And my sisters (who are jealous) tell me that he is a monster. What should I do?

Desperately seeking guidance,
Psyche (the Greek word for soul)


Dear Psyche,

Clearly, Eros has a problem with his body image and his relationship with his mother. You should approach him with love and a soft candlelight. By the way, have you looked into the psychological background of his mother, and also ensured that he isn't a monster? Maybe he is, and if so, you should get yourself tested -STDs are rampant these days.



OMG - We're just like the ancient Greeks. We still ask the sibyls and the soothsayers to assuage our fears. And, sadly, now there is no poetry in their response. No consideration of the loss felt when spirit and heart are parted, and soul must perform countless arduous and banal tasks after squelching desires - the loss that Zimmerman frames in her retelling of the Eros and Psyche myth. (Seriously, you must read Ovid or, at the very least, the human and lovely words of this play to appreciate the point that Zimmerman makes - and completely without cynicism.)

And yet in one pivotal speech, in a concession to contemporary rationality, a character in Metamorphoses directs the audience's attention to the script's language of hyperbole, metaphor and tropes - the very magic of poetry. And in that meta-level moment, viewers are wakened to the visceral beauty of the verse ... in which Sleep is personified, and the sea has dark edges, and the world is THIS and THAT at exactly the same time. Ah... imagery.

And this masterful juxtaposition of art and self-awareness is a crucial reason why you should see this play. The production draws you in and then nakedly shows you what it is... a compassionate ode to human imagination and our desire for transformation. And there's none of the flaky, simplistic cant of much present-day spiritualism.

We should love, Metamorphoses states, the "enigmatic and ambiguous."

I don't know about you but that proposition seems reasonable to me. And, at times, quite a challenge.

I'm sure the ancient Greeks had a word for the conflicted state of exultation and dread that accompanies uncertainty. In its absence, let's hope we, 21st Century folk, have the guts to confront and overcome the irony that our trepidation breeds, and actually to metamorphose.

* * * * * * *

Produced by Metamorphoses Theatre Company

Written and Originally Directed by Mary Zimmerman

Director: Christine Willes

Actors: Kiki Lightburn, Katherine Coupland, Evelyn Neufeld, Michelle Kim, Leslie Brownlee, Robert Tadashi, Chris Ireland, James Behenna, Vaughn Jones and Ian Smith.

By Billey Rainey