Don't tell Metamorphoses' producers or the Tony Award committee, who gave the mythological dramatization three nominations, but Mary Zimmerman's new work was never supposed to be on Broadway.
"It was a school play at Northwestern, originally," Zimmerman said of the hit Off-Broadway-to-Broadway transfer. "Then it was a Lookingglass Theatre production — it ran eight months there — then went around the country and then to Second Stage, but it was literally a school play, initially."
Metamorphoses, which still features three of its original college students in the cast, takes a host of Greek legends and updates them with inspiration from Rilke, Jung and Joseph Campbell coupled with Zimmerman's own words. By this process, she makes the myths of King Midas, Phaeton, Orpheus and Eurydice and Cupid and Psyche come to life for a new generation, although the essential elements, passed down from the ancients, are still there.
"Metamorphoses speaks to how myths are still so accessible and available and entertaining," Zimmerman said. "If they weren't, they wouldn't still be around."
Her greatest innovation in these retellings is the addition of a 30-foot pool that dominates the staging. Zimmerman's first desire had been to place her Odyssey in the water, but nixed that idea in the end. Metamorphoses got the pool instead. "There was something having to do with the Greek maritime culture that these stories come from, but also the psychological implications of water as a symbol of the subconscious. There's something about water that's changeable, suggesting metamorphoses. It can be ice or steam. It looks different under different light. Even in culture, to cross a river or to undergo baptism in water is a symbol of profound change," she said.
Metamorphosesbrings Zimmerman her first and second Tony nominations, one for Best Director and one for Best Play. Well-respected in Chicago for her marriage of text and direction, Zimmerman has created such diverse works as The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Arabian Nights, Journey to the West and Eleven Rooms of Proust. She is currently working on the Philip Glass opera Galileo Galilei for the Goodman Theatre.