In her perky adaptation of Metamorphoses,Roman writer Ovid's greatest work—a massive narrative poem collecting together more than 200 myths—playwright Mary Zimmerman narrows her focus to a mere nine stories. Director Anne Justine D'Zmura's arresting stagingcaptures their essence—most of them focused on love or sex in its many varieties—and her startling visual acuity leads us into a world where gods interact with human beings and the life-altering power of passion literally transforms characters into animals, trees, birds and flowers.
Played out on scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer's awesome set (bleached wood planks, pools of running water, floating light bulbs high like stars in a sky, rope ladders that stretch to heaven), it's a theatrical journey that tells tales many of us haven't heard since we picked up a copy of Bulfinch's in high school.
D'Zmura gets things off to a rocky start, muddling the beginning of the play by throwing a morass of stage pictures, music, movement and dance at us, initially losing the story she's supposed to be telling in the chaos. While she and her student ensemble find their way again once the actual myth-making begins, Zimmerman's script doesn't always trust that the audience is smart enough to get the metaphors, resorting to a narration that needlessly explains what we've just seen.
Despite those caveats, this is an often crisp, entertaining way to while away 90 minutes. We need our myths now more than ever to tell us how we should (and should not) live. If nothing else, the play may draw you back to the original source material, and you'll hear no complaints from me on that score.
METAMORPHOSES, CAL STATE LONG BEACH, STUDIO THEATRE, NEAR SEVENTH STREET, BETWEEN WEST CAMPUS DRIVE AND EAST CAMPUS DRIVE, (562) 985-5526. THURS., DEC. 8, ?7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; SAt, 2 & 8 p.m. $12-$15.