If you were to walk into Lamb Arts Regional Theatre right now, you probably wouldn't expect to find a small swimming pool positioned in the center of the main stage. But sure enough, there it is.
Now don't be so hasty. This isn't a time to grab your swimsuit and take a dive into the deep end. In fact, we strongly recommend you never attempt to do such a thing. The pool isn't very deep, you see. And it's reserved for the actors of "Metamorphoses," a play adapted from the epic poem of the same name by Ovid. Who's Ovid? Just this big important Roman guy who wrote a ton of stories and stuff.
Yeah, he's kind of a big deal.
Lamb actors bring Ovid's stories to life, using the pool of water in a variety of ways. Director Russ Wooley spoke with the Weekender about the theater's latest play:
What exactly is “Metamorphoses” about?
The Roman poet Ovid wrote a huge book thousands of years ago called “Metamorphoses.” It was all about these wonderful Greek and Roman myths and legends and stories. These are such wonderful and engaging stories.
What kind of stories? Could you give an example?
One that almost everyone knows is about King Midas and “the golden touch.” That’s been with us for thousands of years. It’s about how a god decides to give a gift to King Midas. King Midas says, “I want everything I touch to turn to solid gold.” And the god goes, “That’s a really bad idea.” But Midas says, “No, I want that.” So everything he touches turns to gold. Then his daughter runs into his arms and turns to gold. So it shows that everything you want isn’t necessarily good.
So these stories can teach us lessons?
These stories are old but they absolutely resonate with us and with our modern society. They reach right into the middle of us and tell us what it is to be human. These 17 very talented actors really bridge the gap between the ancient world and modern day. Some people are in traditional Roman or Greek [clothing] and some of the actors are in suits. Midas is in a suit because he’s a businessman; he talks about how wealthy he is. The lessons that you get are so pertinent and so incredibly relevant right now.
So what’s with the pool in the center of the stage?
It’s a 12-by-8-foot pool, which took a little while [to build]. Of course, dealing with the water has been interesting. I started talking to Combined Pool & Spa a year ago when I knew I wanted to do this. We have a portable heater that goes in and out of the pool.
What made you want to include this play in Lamb’s lineup?
I saw it in New York at Circle in the Square with my wife Diana and my daughter Cassie several years ago. It was brilliant. It was one of the most magnificent evenings I had ever spent in the theater. There are still moments that I think about. I left the theater saying at one point I will produce this show. It has to be the right season. You have to have enough build time. This isn’t a quick build. All of the planking is individually laid and the angles are individually cut. It’s not easy. I plan the seasons very carefully and this was the season.
What’s the significance of water in the show?
The metaphors are numerous. Roman and Greek cultures were maritime cultures. That’s why they existed and why they grew. Our bodies are made of water. We can’t live without water. It is essential. I asked the cast to think about water and come back to the next rehearsal and tell me everything they can think of about how and why and what water was used for. The list goes on and on and on. Almost every major religion has water as one of its elements. It is ubiquitous. Water has always been and will always be essential for all life.
What role does this pool play?
It’s the center. Water is the center. When [playwright Mary] Zimmerman writes these stories, she doesn’t write them like a traditional script. I don’t know who it was, but someone must have said, “You know, I think we should center everything around a pool of water.” It’s brilliant. You can’t produce the show if you don’t have water.
What have been the main challenges for this play?
The use of the water was extremely challenging. At the end of the evening, there is water to be mopped up. There are fans that are going to be going all the time. The comfort of my actors is important. The other day it was out of my control -- they went into the cold water with clothes on and everything else. This is regional theater. This is the kind of work that we need to do. It’s such crackling good theater. We’re just a bunch of actors. Actors are storytellers. Theater tells stories.
Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to about this play?
You know, that’s a very good question and it’s usually unanswerable. I’ve been directing for 45 or 46 years and usually what I think is going to be the buzz for me, I’m surprised to discover it’s something else. That’s what is so brilliant about what we do. We will get the show to the point where it’s telling the story cleanly, sharply, convincingly. But it doesn’t become theater unless the audience is in the seats. That’s when you really find the rhythm and make the connection. So we’ll see.