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Metamorphoses (play)

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Written by

Mary Zimmerman


King Ceyx

Date premiered


Place premiered

Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois

Original language



Drama, comedy

IBDB profile

IOBDB profile

Metamorphoses is a play by American playwright Mary Zimmerman adapted from the classic Ovid poem, Metamorphoses. The play premiered in 1996 as Six Myths at Northwestern University and later the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago. The play opened off-Broadway in October 2001 at the Second Stage Theatre, and later transferred to Broadway on 21 February 2002 at the Circle in the Square Theatre. It opened again at the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago on 19 September 2012.[1]


  • 1 Contextual Information

  • 2 Plot synopsis

  • 3 Plot analysis

  • 4 Character guide

  • 5 Character analysis

  • 6 Genre

  • 7 Style

  • 8 Theme/Idea

  • 9 Spectacle

  • 10 Language

  • 11 Music

  • 12 Sample production history[33]

  • 13 About the author

  • 14 Awards and nominations

  • 15 References

  • 16 External links

Contextual Information

Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses is based on David R. Slavitt's free-verse translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid. An early version of the play, Six Myths, was produced in 1996 at the Northwestern University Theater and Interpretation Center. Zimmerman's finished work, Metamorphoses, was produced in 1998.

Of the many stories told in Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, only the introductory "Cosmogony" and the tale of Phaeton are from the first half of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The story of Eros and Psyche is not a part of Ovid's Metamorphoses; it is from Lucius Apuleius' novel Metamorphoses[2] -- also called The Golden Ass -- and was included in Zimmerman's Metamorphoses because, as Zimmerman herself said in an interview with Bill Moyers of NOW, "I love it so much I just had to put it in."[3]
Metamorphoses was written and produced during a period of renewed interest in the life and writings of Ovid. Other Ovid-related works in the same handful of decades include David Malouf's 1978 novel, An Imaginary Life; Christoph Ransmayr's Die letzte Welt, 1988 (The Last World, translated to English by John E. Woods in 1990); and Jane Alison's The Love-Artist, 2001. Additionally, Ovid's Metamorphoses were translated by A.D. Melville, Allen Mandelbaum, David R. Slavitt, David Michael Hoffman and James Lasdun, and Ted Hughes—in 1986, 1993, 1994, 1994, and 1997, respectively.[4]

Plot synopsis

The play is staged as a series of vignettes. The order is as follows:

  • Cosmogony- Used to explain the creation of the world, as well as give the audience a sense of the style and setting of the play. Woman by the Water, Scientist, and Zeus help narrate how our world of order came from chaos, either by the hand of a creator or by a "natural order of things."[5]

  • Midas- The story is framed by the narration of three laundresses who tell the story of King Midas, a very rich man. After shunning his daughter for being too disruptive during his speech about caring for his family, a drunken Silenus enters and speaks of a far away land capable of granting eternal life. Silenus later falls asleep, and Midas shelters him in the cabana. Bacchus later comes to retrieve Silenus, and grants Midas a wish for his graciousness towards Silenus. Midas asks for the ability to have whatever he touches turn to gold. Midas accidentally turns his daughter into gold and is prompted by Bacchus to seek a mystic pool that will restore him to normal. Midas leaves for his quest.

  • Alcyone and Ceyx- Also narrated by the three laundresses, this story depicts King Ceyx and his wife Alcyone. Despite his wife's warnings and disapproval, Ceyx voyages into the ocean to visit a far off oracle. Poseidon destroys Ceyx's ship. Ceyx is killed in the process, unbeknownst to Alcyone who awaits on the shore. Prompted by Aphrodite, Alcyone has a dream of Ceyx, who tells her to go the shore. With mercy from the gods, the two are reunited. Transformed as seabirds, they fly together toward the horizon.

  • Erysichthon and Ceres- This story tells of a godless and sacrilegious man named Erysichthon, who cuts down a tree sacred to the goddess Ceres. In an act of vengeance, Ceres commands the spirit Hunger to make him captive to an insatiable appetite. After eating endlessly and spending all his fortune on food, Erysichthon tries to sell his mother to a merchant. His mother gets transformed into a little girl after praying to the god Poseidon and escapes from the merchant. Erysichthon eventually succumbs to his endless hunger and devours himself.

  • Orpheus and Eurydice- The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is told twice. The first from the point of view of Orpheus in 8 AD, who has just married his bride Eurydice. Eurydice is bitten by a snake on their wedding day and dies. Orpheus, so distraught, travels to the Underworld so that he might work out a deal to retrieve Eurydice. After singing a mournful song, Hades is convinced to let Eurydice return with Orpheus on one condition: Eurydice must follow Orpheus from behind and he cannot look back at her, and if he should, she must stay in the Underworld forever. Orpheus agrees to the terms, and when almost back to the living world, he doubtfully looks back, causing Hermes to pluck her away. The action is repeated several times, resembling the memory that Orpheus will have forever of losing his bride. The second time is told from the point of view of Eurydice in the likeness of the Rainer Maria Rilke's style in 1908. After an eternity of this repeated action, Eurydice becomes forgetful and fragile, tragically no longer remembering Orpheus. She returns to the Underworld unknowing to Orpheus, the man she loved so long ago.

  • Narcissus Interlude- A brief scene showing the character Narcissus catching a glimpse of his own reflection in a pool. He becomes transfixed and becomes paralyzed. He is replaced by a narcissus plant by his fellow castmates.

  • Pomona and Vertumnus- This story depicts a female wood nymph named Pomona and a romantically shy Vertumnus. Pomona has refused the hands of many suitors and remains alone. Vertumnus, in order to see her, disguises himself in a variety of costumes and tries to convince Pomona to fall in love with him, although he doesn't reveal his true identity. After telling the story of Myrrha, Pomona tells Vertumnus to take off his ridiculous disguise, and the two become smitten in love.

  • Myrrha- A story within the Pomona and Vertumnus story, Vertumnus tells the story of a King Cinyras and his daughter Myrrha. After denying Aphrodite's love attempts many times, Myrrha is cursed by Aphrodite with a lust for her father. Myrrha tries to control her urges, but eventually falls to the temptation. With the help of her Nursemaid, Myrrha has three sexual encounters with her father, each time keeping him drunk and blindfolded so he wouldn't suspect her. The third time Cinyras takes off his blindfold and tries to strangle Myrrha, who escapes and is never seen again. Rumors are mentioned of what happened to her, but she is depicted as melting into the pool.

  • Phaeton- This story is told about Phaeton in the form of Phaeton narrating his relationship with his Father, Apollo, to the Therapist. With the Therapist adding her psychoanalytical points, Phaeton tells the audience of a distanced relationship with his father. After bullying from school, Phaeton goes on a journey to meet his father, who drives the sun across the sky every day. Racked with guilt from fatherly neglect, Apollo allows Phaeton to "drive" the sun across the sky as compensation for all the years of absence. Phaeton, who constantly whines, drives the sun too close to the earth and scorches it. The Therapist closes the scene in a monologue about the difference between myth and dream.

  • Eros and Psyche- "Q" and "A" essentially narrate a scene about Psyche falling in love with Eros. Psyche and Eros remain silent during the whole interlude, but act out what Q and A discuss. Eros and Psyche fall in love, as Q and A tell the audience that they might wander in the darkness of loneliness until they blind themselves to personal romantic desires and give into a deeper love. Psyche becomes a goddess and lives with Eros forever.

  • Baucis and Philemon- The final story tells of Zeus and Hermes disguising themselves as beggars on earth in order to know what its like to be human. After being shunned by every house in the city, they are graciously accepted into the house of the poor married couple, Baucis and Philemon. The married couple feeds the gods with a great feast, not knowing the true identity of the strangers except that they are "children of God".[6] After the feast, the gods reveal themselves and grant the two a wish. Baucis and Philemon ask to die at the same time to save each other grief of death, and the gods respond by turning their house into a grand palace and the couple into a pair of trees with branches intertwined. At the end of the scene, Midas returns to the stage, finds the pools, washes, and is restored. His daughter enters, healed, and the play ends with a redeemed Midas embracing his daughter.

The stories as they are told in the classic Ovid tales


  • Creation

  • King Midas

  • Alcyone and Ceyx

  • Erysichthon

  • Orpheus and Eurydice

  • Pomona and Vertumnus

  • Myrrha

  • Phaeton

  • Apollo

  • Eros and Psyche

  • Baucis and Philemon

Plot analysis

By definition, plot can be referred to as the deliberate selection and arrangement of the incidents and actions that are outlined by the playwright.[7] When Metamorphoses is analyzed it is important to realize that the plot is not a conventional arrangement and must be looked at instead from a non-linear point of view.[8]

A linear dramatic action may be set as with the following steps: 1. A state of equilibrium 2. An inciting incident 3. Point of attack of the major dramatic question 4. Rising action 5. Climax 6. Resolution 7. New state of equilibrium.[9] These set of events are described as being of a well-made play and follow a linear set of actions.[8] First one event, then the next and the following one after that and so on and so forth. Metamorphoses does not follow this laid out set of steps and no single analysis can make it follow this formula. However each of the separate stories embedded within the play is in itself a "well-made play" within a play. Each story can be easily followed and analyzed through a look at the seven parts already established. An example that can easily demonstrate and lay out the structure is the story of Erysichthon described within Metamorphoses.

The seven elements of this story can be seen as follows:

  • State of Equilibrium - Erysichthon has no regard for the gods and does as he wishes with no fear of punishment

  • Inciting Incident - Erysichthon tears down a tree that is beloved by the god, Ceres

  • Point of Attack of the MDQ (Major Dramatic Question) - Will Ceres avenge her beloved tree and teach a valuable lesson about the power of the gods to Erysichthon?

  • Rising Action - Ceres sends a servant to look for Hunger, Ceres' servant finds Hunger, Hunger embodies itself into Erysichthon, Erysichthon gorges on food

  • Climax - Erysichthon's hunger is so insatiable that he sells his own mother to a trader for money to buy more food

  • Resolution - Finally, Erysichthon can no longer find any more food to eat and curb his hunger so Ceres approaches him with a tray that holds a fork and a knife, Erysichthon sits down and actually destroys himself

  • New State of Equilibrium - Erysichthon is no more and people are no longer left to wonder or question the power of the gods

Each of the stories told within Metamorphoses can be analyzed in this fashion and it is even worth noting the story of King Midas. His dramatic action can be followed over the entire length of the play for we are introduced to his story in the beginning and are not subjected to the resolution of his story until the end of the play and his story is actually the last one addressed in the play.[10]

Character guide

Characters listed as in the script

  • Woman by the Water: The narrator for the opening scene who poetically comments on the creation of the world and man.

  • Scientist: In the opening scene, adorned in a white lab coat and holding earthly elements, explains the scientific possibility of the creation of the world

  • Zeus: The Greek God, referred in the play as, "Lord of the heavens", who represents a divine creator in the opening scene. Later, Zeus and Hermes disguise themselves as beggars and find shelter in Baucis and Philemon's home.

  • Three Laundresses: Used as a narrative device as the three, unnamed women exchange the stories of "Midas" and "Alcyone and Ceyx" as they are enacted on stage.

  • Midas and his Daughter: Midas is an exorbitantly rich king who is granted by Bacchus the ability to turn anything he touches into gold. He accidentally turns his daughter into gold in the first scene, and concludes the play by finding a sacred pool that restores himself as well as his daughter to their original, healthy states.

  • Lucina: The goddess of childbirth.

  • Silenus: A follower of Bacchus who shows up drunk at Midas' palace. Midas treats Silenus well, and because of his kindness is granted a wish of his choice.

  • Bacchus:Roman God of wine and partying. He grants Midas a gift for saving a follower of his, the golden touch, though he warns Midas it is a very bad idea for a heavinly gift.

  • Ceyx, a King: King, husband of Alcyone, and Captain of a sea vessel. Dies at sea by Poseidon's wrath. His body is later carried ashore by Hermes, and transforms into a living seabird along with Alcyone.

  • Alcyone: Ceyx's wife and daughter of Aeolus, Master of the Winds. Awaits for Ceyx's return after his departure, sees false visions of Ceyx as prompted by Morpheus, and finally is transformed into a seabird after Ceyx's body is finally returned to her.

  • Hermes: Son of Zeus. Returns Ceyx's body to Alcyone. Later accompanies Zeus to earth disguised as beggars to "see what people were really like."[11]

  • Aphrodite: Goddess of love and beauty. Hears the prayers of Ceyx at sea when his ship is sinking. Sends Iris, the rainbow, to the cave of Sleep, who will show Alcyone a vision of Ceyx.

  • Erysichthon and his Mother: Erysichthon scorned the gods and found nothing sacred. Was cursed by Ceres with an insatiable hunger after cutting down a sacred tree. Erysichthon tries to sell his mother, who later turns back into a child by Poseidon's grace. Erysichthon eventually eats himself, though the audience doesn't see it firsthand.

  • Ceres: Roman Goddess of the Harvest. Roman equivalent to Demeter. She sends Oread to find Hunger so she can punish Erysichthon for cutting down her tree.

  • Oread: A nymph Ceres sends to find Hunger.

  • Hunger: Commanded, or rather permitted, to latch onto Erysichthon forever.

  • Orpheus: Husband of Eurydice. Travels to the Underworld to retrieve Eurydice after her death. Hades agrees to her release on the condition that Orpheus doesn't look back at her as they walk out of the Underworld; which Orpheus does. He is haunted with the memory of losing his wife forever.

  • Eurydice: Wife of Orpheus who dies after stepping on a snake. She is eventually doomed to the Underworld after Orpheus breaks his promise to Hades, and will spend as eternity not remembering the face of her husband.

  • Vertumnus, God of Springtime: An admirer of Pomona and disguises himself in various costumes in order to get close of Pomona. Tells the story of Myrrha to sway Pomona into loving him.

  • Pomona, Wood Nymph: A skilled gardener who refused to have a lover. Finally falls for Vertumnus after heeding his message and telling him to be himself.

  • Cinyras, a King: Father to Myrrha who eventually sleeps with her after being tricked by the Nursemaid while being drunk and blindfolded.

  • Myrrha: Daughter of Kind Cinyras who denied Aphrodite so many times that Myrrha was seized with a passion for her father. She eventually has three sexual encounters with her father, the third of which he discovers her identity during intercourse. She flees and her final whereabouts remain unknown.

  • Nursemaid: A servant who agrees to help Myrrha have sexual relations with her father.

  • Phaeton: Son of Apollo, who after many years of neglect, finally confronts his father, convinces Apollo to let him have control of the sun, and burns the Earth. Phaeton reveals his story to the Therapist.

  • Therapist: A psychologist who follows a Freudian example and psycho analyzes Phaeton's story.

  • Apollo: God of the sun, music, and light. Father of Phaeton. At first he was hesitant to let his son drive his chariot but eventually gave in.

  • Eros: Primordial god of love and lust. Depicted as blind, winged, and naked. Falls in love with Psyche.

  • Psyche: The opposite character of Eros. Questions love's reason and eventually receives love. Goddess of pure beauty.

  • Q & A: Narrators of the Eros and Psyche scene. Q only asks questions and A answers them. They discuss the relationship of love and the mind.

  • Baucis: A poor woman and wife of Philemon. Together they offer their homes to Zeus and Hermes and are rewarded by being turned into trees to spare each other death.

  • Philemon: A poor man and husband of Baucis. Together they offer their homes to Zeus and Hermes and are rewarded by being turned into trees to spare each other death.

  • Various Narrators: Members of the ensemble who take turns in narrating various scenes.

Character analysis

Because of the mythic quality of the script, sometimes the players in the performance often resemble "archetypes instead of characters."[12] Further stated, "enacting myth does not require creating a plausible character, but rather an emblematic figure who demonstrates a particular, identifiable human trait."[13]

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is told twice, each to emphasize both of their individual stories and act like mirrors with reflecting stories of love and loss; the first being from Orpheus' point of view from Ovid's tale from 8 A.D., then Eurydice's tale in 1908 inspired by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It can be argued that Orpheus is an archetype for strong human emotion and expressing it through poetry and music. Specifically with regards to music, it compliments Orpheus' ability to only move forward in time, along with his feelings and mortal love. Although they can repeat, as they do in the scene several times, they cannot turn back completely and be the same. Zimmerman includes the line "Is this a story about how time can only move in one direction?" to bring light to Orpheus' struggle.[14]

The Phaeton story offers the audience a look into his own consciousness as he narrates his own story (not the case with most of the other stories). With the Therapist bringing a modern glimpse of Freudian psychoanalysis, Phaeton's relationship with his father can be seen in new ways: "the father is being asked to perform an initiation rite, to introduce his son to society, [and] to inscribe him in a symbolic order." [15]

Because Midas frames the story at the beginning and later shows up at the end as a redeemed man, the play ends with a sense of optimism due to his transformation into a more selfless man.

The character Eros, although attains many of the traits of the more popularized Cupid, is meant to symbolize more than what's typically thought of. In the play, "A", Psyche, interprets why "Q", Eros, is dressed is naked, winged, and blindfolded: he is naked to make our feelings transparent, he is winged so he might fly from person to person, and he blindfolded to encourage us to see into each others hearts.[16] The notion of Cupid being blindfolded as making random and foolhardy choices is dismissed as Psyche states the line, "He is blind to show how he takes away our ordinary vision, our mistaken vision, that depends on the appearance of things."[17]


Since the Metamorphoses is derived from literary texts, productions of Zimmerman's may be classified in the genre of Readers Theater. Readers Theater is meant to present a narrative text, like a poem, to an audience rather than a typical play script. Readers Theater generally follows the presentational form of theater, rather than representational, often relying on narrators to bring insight from an outside perspective to a character. The presentational aspect is thought to universalize the performance by creating a direct and intimate link between the audience and the narrator. Readers Theater also calls for less theatrical devices, such as costumes, sets, and props in order to better focus on the story and the language.[18] Metamorphoses generally follows these methods by using multiple narrators, who both tell and comment on the story, and uses language that is strongly rooted in the David R. Slavitt translation of Ovid's mythology.

In terms of more classic genres, Metamorphoses acts as a hybrid by containing elements of various genres including comedy, classic tragedy, and drama, but not necessarily limited to any of them.[19] Metamorphoses borrows many aspects from the theater genre of opera in the sense that it uses visual and aural illusions and achieving them in fairly simplistic ways.[19] It has been said that Zimmerman was better able to capture the seriocomic elements of Ovid's tales than most adaptations.[20]


Being based on myths thousands of years old, Zimmerman and Metamophoses proves that these stories are still have relevance and can be effectively experienced in modern times. The play advocates that perhaps human beings haven't changed to the point of being unrecognizable nearly two thousand years later, and Zimmerman has stated, "These myths have a redemptive power in that they are so ancient. There's a comfort in the familiarity of the human condition."[21] Zimmerman also generally gives the audience an objective point of view, perhaps to get a better scope of the variety of stories and themes being told. An example of the objectivity of Metamorphoses, in terms of plot, is during the Alcyone and Ceyx scene when the audience is aware of Ceyx's death long before Alcyone learns of it. In terms of motifs, Metamorphoses can become a little more subjective, especially in the themes of death and love. The play advocates in favor of the concepts concerning death as a transformation of form rather than death as an absence, which is typical in popular Western culture.[22]

Metamorphoses is a non-naturalistic play, and is presented as mythic rather than realistic.[23] The use of myths essentially "lifts the individuals out of ordinary time and the present moment, and places him in "mythic time"--an ambiguous term for the timeless quality myths manifest." [24] The setting of the play isn't limited to just one specific location. For example, the pool on stage transforms from "the luxurious swimming pool of nouveau riche Midas, the ocean in which Ceyx drowns, the food devoured by Erysichthon, Narcissus' mirror, a basin to hold Myrrha's tears, [and] the river Styx"[20] and that the pool, like the stories transcend realistic thinking and are "suspended in space and time."[25]

The plot is constructed mostly by a series of vignettes, but is framed overall by a few narrative devices. The opening scene essentially shows the creation of the world, or Cosmogony, not only sets up the world that the following characters will live in, but the world itself. In terms of a beginning and end within the stories themselves, King Midas frames them with his story of greed at the beginning and his redemption at the last moments of the play. After being introduced as a horribly selfish man, the other stories of the play get told and mask the lack of resolution within the Midas story. Finally at the end, Midas who is "by this time long forgotten and in any case unexpected--reappears, newly from his quest" with his restored daughter, and "on this note of love rewarded and love redeemed, the play comes to an end.".[26] Through all the vignettes that are portrayed, the audience is meant to leave not with the story of a few individuals, but rather to know the power of human transformation in all forms.

Metamorphoses uses a combination of presentational and representational forms, including the Vertumnus and Pomona scene, which is both acted out and tells the story of Myrrha. However, when representation is used, it isn't meant to be a representation of real life, but simply a rendition of a story. For the most part, the play follows a linear technique by having the sequence of events in each individual story follow a rational chronological timeline. The Orpheus scene strays from this, by repeating a portion of the same scene numerous times for the thematic purpose to emphasize Orpheus' tormenting loss.

Zimmerman intended the play to build on a foundation of images. In a New York Times interview, Zimmerman said, "You're building an image, and the image starts to feed you" as well as, "When I approach a text, I don't do a lot of historical reading. It's an artificial world and I treat it as an artificial world." [27] Zimmerman's plays have been described as "theater of images" and compared to the style of the director Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch, and Julie Taymor.[28] Zimmerman also uses the play as a "poetic bridge between myth and modernism" by creating a hyrid of ancient Greek antiquities and modern American culture.[29]

Metamorphoses also focuses general concepts and emotions rather than on the individual characters themselves.


The central idea of Metamorphoses is the concept of change. To "metamorphose" literally means to change strikingly the appearance or character of something.[30] Metamorphoses is full of instances of change, with each story told containing at least one example (Midas changing all he touched to gold, Alcyone and Ceyx changing to seabirds, Baucis and Philemon changing to trees, and so on).

This theme of change is strongly tied to the reliance of the play upon water. Not only does the water change function throughout Metamorphoses, but water itself is described as "the most protean (lit: diverse or varied) of elements"[31] In transforming her early version of Metamorphoses, Six Myths, into its final form, the most important change was the addition of the pool. According to David Ostling, Zimmerman's scenic designer, "She was looking for the changing ability of water, the instantaneous nature of it, how it could go from still to violent and back to calm." [32]

Zimmerman's Metamorphoses also examines the causes of change in human beings. In other words, what can make a person become something completely different? The most prevalent cause throughout Metamorphoses is love: The rich and powerful Midas becomes a humble pilgrim traveling to the ends of the world out of love for his daughter; Alcyone and Ceyx are transformed into seabirds because of their love for each other; Baucis and Philemon are turned to trees at the moment of their death so that neither must live without the other. At the same time, Metamorphoses warns of what happens when love is ignored. When Erysichthon cuts down a sacred tree, showing that he loves only himself and not the gods, he is transformed into a man consumed by hunger, until he eventually consumes himself. When the beautiful Myrrha scorns the love of her suitors, the goddess Aphrodite curses her to love her father, causing her to sleep with him in disguise. When she is discovered, she flees to the wilderness, where the gods transform her into tears.[33]

The central idea of Metamorphoses can be defined as the changing power of love. Mary Zimmerman herself stated that "[Metamorphoses] makes it easy to enter the heart and to believe in greater change as well... that we all can transform."[34]


The primary feature in any production of Metamorphoses is the pool, which generally sits center stage and occupies most of the stage. The pool is central to all of the stories told in Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, though its function changes throughout. The pool becomes, at varying times in the production, a swimming pool, a washing basin, the River Styx of the Underworld, and the sea, amongst other items.[33] Aside from the pool, the stage consists of a platform bordering the pool, a chandelier hanging above, a large depiction of the sky upstage and right of the pool, and a set of double doors, upstage left of the pool. The stage has been described as "reminiscent of paintings by Magritte and the dream states they evoke." [32]

The costumes of the play are described as "evocative of a generalized antiquity but one in which such things as suspenders and trousers are not unknown."[31] Images of the play show actors wearing costumes that range from classic Grecian togas to modern bathing suits, sometimes in the same scene. This juxtaposition of old and new is particularly striking in the story of Midas, in which Midas is shown wearing a smoking jacket while being confronted by a drunken reveler in a half-toga and vine leaves in his hair.[32]


The use of language in Metamorphoses is to set up the fantastic yet easy to relate to world that will be seen on stage by the audience. While all the myths are poetic in nature, Zimmerman "has a great vision and her sense of humor intrudes on a regular basis, often with clever visual or aural touches." [35] The imaginative use of the pool in the play of course helps in the setting up of the fantasy element of the play but the comedy elements make the play easy to be able to relate in the world today. For when an audience hears or reads the clever set of words set forth by Zimmerman, they can easily take in the experience of a well written play but will also be able to relate the lessons learned and information presented to their immediate lives.

The rhythm with which Zimmerman chose to write Metamorphoses is also a very key concept to understand. The quick scenes and down-to-the point dialogue is easy to follow and does not leave a great deal of silence and or pauses within many of the conversations. This upbeat rhythm shows up within separate lines themselves. "HERMES: The god of speed and distant messages, a golden crown above his shining eyes, his slender staff held out in front of him, and little wings fluttering at his ankles: and on his left arm, barely touching it: she."[36] A device called dissonance is used heavily in this one particular line. Dissonance is a subtle sense of disharmony, tension, or imbalance within the words chosen in the play.[37] The short stressed sounds are the ones that are emphasized in dissonance and it is a way for the playwright to accentuate the up-tempo rhythm that is being used throughout the play.


The music for Metamorphoses was composed by Willy Schwarz, for which he was awarded the 2002 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play. Schwarz also collaborated with Zimmerman in her plays The Odyssey and Journey to the West.[38] In Metamorphoses his music is used to signify a change in scene or to accompany specific moments of a scene, often a moment of poetic speech.

Music in the form of finger cymbals is used in the story of Midas; after he is granted the ability to turn anything he touches to gold, his footsteps are denoted by the sound of the finger cymbals.[39] Also, the character of Apollo sings the aria "Un Aura Amarosa" from Cosí Fan Tutte by Mozart during the story of Phaeton.

Sample production history[33]

-Times and dates retrieved from the beginning of the script-

World premiere production:

Produced by Lookingglass Theatre Co., based in Chicago. It opened on October 25, 1998 at the Ivanhoe Theater.

Second Stage Theatre production:

The play's off Broadway debut was on October 9, 2001 in New York City. This production was in rehearsal during the attacks on the World Trade Towers on September 11. With the towers still smoldering downtown, the productions emotional response seemed greater from the audience.[40]

Broadway production:

The play's Broadway debut was on March 4, 2002 at the Circle in the Square theater in New York City. Unlike previous productions, the Circle in the Square Theater uses a 3/4 thrust stage, meaning that the audience is on three sides of the playing area. It resonated a similar structure to the Greek and Roman amphitheaters and the audience was aware that other audience members could see them, "appropriate for a show that stresses the value of shared cultural myths and the emotions they summon." [41] Although the play kept many of the Off-Broadway aspects of the show, it subdued the incest scene between Myrrha and King Cinyras for the Broadway production. The Off Broadway scene had the pair "writhing and splashing" enthusiastically in a much more intense and disturbing fashion, while on Broadway they gently rolled in the water, suggesting a more seemly interaction.[42] The performance style was commented by one reviewer as falling into an American jokiness form that had a youthful charm and a high energy for wisecracks as a way of deflecting and delay the emotionally heavy scene, which tended to resonate better.[43] It closed on February 16, 2003, running for a total of 400 performances.[44] This production was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play in 2002, competing against Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog and Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, which ended up taking the award.[45]

About the author

Mary Zimmerman was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1960. As a child she was introduced to the stories of the ancient Mediterranean world by Edith Hamilton's Mythology, and while away in England she was read The Odyssey by a teacher.[34] Zimmerman was educated at Northwestern University, where she received a BS in theater, as well as a PhD and MA in performance studies. She is currently a full professor of performance studies at Northwestern.[46]

Beyond her childhood exposure to Greek myths, Zimmerman credits the Jungian scholar James Hillman as the source of many of her ideas involving love, which appear in the story of Eros and Psyche. She also acknowledges the contribution of Joseph Campbell, a scholar of mythology, to her work.[47] Zimmerman won the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship in 1998 in recognition of her creative work and encouraged her productions and methodology to continue.[48]

Other plays by Mary Zimmerman include Journey to the West, The Odyssey, The Arabian Nights, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, and Eleven Rooms of Proust. She also directed and co-wrote Galileo Galilei.[46] She has twice directed for the New York Shakespeare Festival in the Park and won the Tony Award for Best Director in 2002 for the Broadway production of Metamorphoses.[49]Metamorphoses was Zimmerman's first Broadway production.[4]

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