based on Tales from Ovid, by Ted Hughes published by Faber & Faber, Ltd.
Composer: David McMullin
Composer/Musician/Ensemble: Shaw Pong Liu
presented by Whistler in the Dark Theatre
directed by Meg Taintor
in association with ArtsEmerson: The World Onstage
Jackie Liebergott Black Box at the Paramount Center
559 Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111
Whistler in the Dark Facebook Page
Review by Gillian Daniels
Ancient Greek myths, when adapted to the stage, need not be built-up to be timely. The dissonance between myth and the modern era can be distracting in contemporary adaptations. If anything, here, the stories chosen from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are stripped down. The production has few props and no costumes, giving the ensemble room to breathe. Whistler in the Dark is the perfect sort of theater to spur to life the passions beneath the age-old Greek myths, which will surely please both casual and Classicist audiences.
The use of aerial silks in Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid lends a visceral sense of danger to the stage. When Mac Young scales a skein as Phaeton, the son of Apollo, and rides the chariot of the Sun to tragic ends, he is slowly tangled in the silk until he meets his demise. Later, the same silk is made to look like a river between Aimee Rose Ranger as Narcissus and Danny Bryck, Narcissus’s reflection. The silk is unique character, meant to demonstrate the iron will of the gods. It’s as versatile as the actors are in their roles.
As an ensemble, the actors function as a single unit. They are all parts of the same vessel used to tell Ovid’s stories. In one vignette, Jen O’Connor is the hesitant Myrrha as she tries to seduce her father, Mac Young as Cinyras. In another vignette, O’Connor suffers as Philomela at the hands of Young’s lustful King Tereus. Similarly, Bryck, as Acteon, is punished for seeing O’Connor’s Artemis bathing nude, but later Bryck, as Hippomenes, wins over Ranger’s athletic Atalanta in a footrace.
The roles each actor assumes are echoed again and again. The effect is dizzying and magical. Even composer Shaw Pong Liu, who’s music accompaniment is delightful, is pulled into the rhyming, shifting tales.
I encourage those unsure of venturing outside their theater comfort zone to give Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid a try. Simulated sex and violence may scare off the more tender-stomached viewers, but the experience of the show is startling, gorgeous, and, despite being over two millennia old, new. It’s a treat and I hope fans of Greek myth and theater don’t miss it before it’s gone.