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A Director’s View

In ‘Metamorphoses,’ Longtime Myth Comes True

Oct. 26, 2012

Male actor hanging by cords on stage

Brianna Gattuso and David Contreras perform in the dreamlike poetic world of the Tony Award-winning play.

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Veteran actress Maria Cominis had been eager to direct "Metamorphoses" ever since she saw the Tony Award–winning play about transformation, at the Circle in the Square Theater on Broadway, soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"It was a beautiful production and quite meaningful after all that New York had been through," she recalled. "It's a play about love ... about how we change and how change is inevitable ... and really pinpointed what is important in life."

She began lobbying several years ago to mount a production at CSUF, and her efforts came to fruition this month in the James D. Young Studio Theatre, where "Metamorphoses" continues through Oct. 28. (See more show photos on Flickr.)

"It was the right time to do it," she said. "There's something in it for everybody. It's really a beautiful piece for all ages, because we all change."

The play by Mary Zimmerman is based on the myths of the Roman poet Ovid, who explores the universal themes of love and longing, generosity and greed, the meaning of life and death, in stories about gods and mortals, wood nymphs, ghosts and phantoms.

"Ovid's poems tell stories of transformation," Cominis noted. "Mortals become gods, animals turn to stone and humans evolve into nature."

The dialogue and costumes blend elements of ancient and modern times — one actor sports surfer shorts with Budweiser logos beneath a Greek robe; another, as Midas, wears a suit and tie. Some descend into the underworld, while others dive into a swimming pool.

The action takes place in, around and above a large pool of water — a first for the Clayes Performing Arts Center. With its double liner and filtered water that is also heated for the actors to keep the chill away, the pool posed various logistical hurdles for the team mounting the production.

An infinity pool was in Cominis' mind when she sat down with the production's scenic designer, Fred Kinney, to discuss the central element of the stage design. The resulting raked pool is placed within a mural and between poles the actors use as one means of transport onto the stage.

"When you do a Greek play, the vertical access is where they come from, and where transformations ascend to," Cominis explained.

She relied on the creative talents of students and staff members, including Kinney, costume designer Amy Shuffield, lightening designer Joey Welden, sound designer Jonathan Castanien, hair /makeup designer Ryan Spindel and aerial arts coordinator Bill Lett, to evoke the play's "dreamlike poetic world."

"It's truly a collaborative effort, with big challenges technically," she said, crediting her Theatre and Dance Department colleagues with being "really up for the challenge."

Cominis certainly knows firsthand about collaboration from her years portraying the recurring character Mona Clark on ABC's now-departed hit television series "Desperate Housewives" and as a nurse on the daytime soaps "One Life to Live" and "All My Children."

A student of the legendary stage actress Uta Hagen, Cominis believes her time spent as an actor has contributed to her effectiveness as a director and is currently working on a handbook for actors, mining "both sides, acting and directing" for material.

As for the current production, "I feel very privileged to work on this with students; it's a meaningful piece of art and very satisfying." She also offeels a kinship with Zimmerman, who originated "Metamorphoses" with students at Northwestern University, where she is a professor.

Cominis credits the 10-member cast with making "this longtime myth come true." Each performer plays multiple roles, inhabiting the likes of Apollo, Hades and others. They enthusiastically embrace the challenges of their liquid stage, where they fight to survive in the midst of a raging storm at sea, lounge atop a velvet-draped inflatable mattress, or hang suspended from above, performing an ariel ballet.

The students who perform the show's aerial arts while cradled in a sling of fabric underwent special training in preparation for this and other productions.

Appreciative audiences are applauding their efforts and can be heard taking in breaths as the actors float into view or disappear into the bottom of the pool.

"The students are loving it," she said of their acting aloft or while partially submerged. "The pool of water is such a symbolic element."

For Cominis, taking audiences on this journey of transformation is "an honor."

She offered: "People will question and look at their own lives, and that's what theater is all about."

The CSUF production of "Metamorphoses" is entered in the annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. The cast members are: Melissa Booey, Julie Cardia, David Contreras, Ethan Daniel Corbett, Joseph Daniels, Brianna Gattuso, Monique Marie Gelineau, Selene Perez, Craig Tyrl and Nick Waaland. Tickets are available online.

By: Paula Selleck, 657-278-4856

Tags:  Arts & CultureEvents