For viewers in the front rows for Ensemble Theatre Company’s latest production, you might just get wet while watching “Metamorphoses.” But don’t worry, director Jonathan Fox has the audience covered … literally, with rain ponchos. It’s can’t be helped when a great part of the stage will be a wading pool, built per stage instructions included in Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid’s classic tales of myth and transformation.

“It think the audience getting wet is part of the experience,” says Mr. Fox. “It’s the kind of piece that doesn’t work if you’re watching on video. You need to be surrounded by people.”

The play covers more than a dozen myths from ancient Greece, some familiar like King Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Narcissus and Eros and Psyche. There are also many less-well known tales, like Pomona and Vertumnus or Baucis and Philemon. At the center of all the tales is a transformation, either into simple disguises, or into something other than human or vice versa. And so, this play marks one of the largest ensemble casts in the rightly named company’s history, a full nine actors. Mr. Fox has changed some genders along the way as well, and cast several actors in multiple roles.

The cast includes Brian Patrick Monahan (last seen in Ensemble’s “Crime and Punishment”), Daniel David Stewart (from Ensemble’s “The Lion in Winter”), DramaDogs’ E. Bonnie Lewis, Brian Abraham, Cynthia Beckert, William C. Mitchell, Maya Lynne Robinson, Michael Cusimano and recent UCSB grad Chase O’Donnell.

Daniel David Stewart Cynthia Beckert and Brian Patrick Monahan
Daniel David Stewart
Cynthia Beckert and Brian Patrick Monahan

Ms. Zimmerman’s play intertwines stories with both comedy and tragedy, dreamlike imagery and beauty.

Mr. Fox saw the production in a small theater in New York very soon after 9/11 and before it went off to Broadway.

“The emotions were still very high and tense,” he remembers. “The unfathomable grief and shock, too. There are moments in the play that became even more resonant. One character who is about to drown says please let my wife find my body. As you may remember, so many bodies were never found. In the play death is also a transformation … there is rebirth. People glommed onto that at the time. … People were sobbing, but it was also very positive.”

Twelve-and-a-half years later, the stories resonate on different levels now. “Everybody experiences death,” Mr. Fox says. “People wonder, where did that person go? Those issues never go away. We’re always dealing with loss, love, hubris.”

Francois-Pierre Couture designed the minimal set with two staircases that bookend the reflecting pool, over which hangs a large chandelier. But that’s it. “There’s a lot going on with the storytelling and we wanted the elements to speak for themselves,” Mr. Fox adds. “We like the clean simplicity of it.” The music has been composed by electronic composer John Zalewski (see sidebar), and features choreography by PCPA’s Michael Jenkinson.

“This is so different from anything we’ve ever done, it’s a fun experience to see a change that we can only do with the New Vic,” Mr. Fox says.

The New Vic’s size has become a “freeing experience,” he says, no longer hemmed in by the Alhecama Theater’s old-school technology. “It’s nice to know we have a facility that can handle things that allow me to do more out-there kinds of work.”

Where: The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St.
Information: 965-5400, ensembletheatre.com

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