'Metamporphoses' dives into the myths of Ovid

Mary Zimmerman’s 1998 hit Metamorphoses is, for the uninitiated, a beguiling introduction to Ovid’s myths. And for those who know them, the clever retelling of those myths is a reminder of their power.

This year’s collaboration between the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Miami’s Department of Theatre Arts features four professional actors and 10 students. UM theater chair Henry Fonte has staged the production in and around the shallow swimming pool that is the centerpiece of K. April Soroko’s set in the Arsht’s Carnival Studio Theater. It’s a place in which sheer white curtains and sail-shaped fabric transform into gardens, palaces, star-strewn skies and more, thanks to Eric Haugen’s lighting and projections.

Sound designer Matt Corey contributes to the magic of the piece with everything from birdsong to thunderous storms. And designer Ellis Tillman mixes it up, creating some elaborately detailed costumes with vivid pops of color but largely clothing the student bodies (and grown-up ones) in off-white fabric that drapes provocatively, turning nearly sheer as the actors frolic and tumble in the water.

So visually, Metamorphoses is an ever-changing feast. As for this version of the play itself, the production offers moments of tragedy, joy, sorrow, eroticism, grief, horror and humor. The four adult actors deliver like the professionals they are, though Isabel Moreno, Maha McCain and Peter Galman don’t have either the focal stage time or dramatic impact of Ethan Henry, who is — by miles — the most compelling reason for theater lovers to check out this Metamorphoses.

Perhaps because Henry is working with many young artists still learning their craft, the Carbonell Award-nominated actor seems to be giving a master class in how to play a variety of mythic roles filtered through a contemporary sensibility. His rich, deep voice effortlessly and clearly delivers every word of his dialogue. He mines the greed and self-delusion of King Midas as well as the addictive lust of Cinyras, whose daughter Myrrha (Alanna Saunders) is cursed with an unnatural desire for him. And when Henry plays Midas’ horror or Cinyras’ revulsion, the emotions seem utterly genuine.

The work by the UM student actors is of varying quality. Some of the breakdowns and histrionics are nothing more than over-the-top shouting, devoid of any connection to real emotion. Vocally, some of the young women sound better suited to pitching teen products on TV than playing complex roles onstage.

Still, each student achieves a memorable moment or two in Metamorphoses: Taylor Stutz as Sleep; Tim Bell as Orpheus and Annette Hammond as Eurydice; Saunders as the miserable Myrrha; Javier Del Riego as unlucky-in-love but funny Vertumnus; Tim Manion as the ravenous Erysichthon, a tyrant beset by Mary Hadsell’s unrelenting Hunger; Bell again as the amusingly spoiled Phaeton, son of Adam Maggio’s regal Apollo; Stutz and Maggie Weston as the beautiful Eros and Psyche; Emily Madden as the generous Baucis.

Metamorphoses takes the audience on a journey through an imaginative, varied, beautifully realized world manipulated by cruel gods and kind ones. But the guy who really rules over this particular kingdom, the one you’ll remember as you leave the theater, is Henry.