Folger’s ‘Metamorphoses’ is Movement, Myth, Black Magic

Jon Hudson Odom as King Midas in Metamorphoses at Folger Theatre. Image credit Brittany Diliberto

I wasn’t expecting to be as taken as I was with the version of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses currently on stage at the Folger Theatre. The performance touts itself as somewhat of an ode to Black humanity and I thought I, a single white female, might not be the target audience. But keep in mind this compendium of myths is an emotional telling of classic tales of the Gods and mortals — it is poignant and funny and truly about the things that unite us all.

Metamorphoses is the legacy work of the Roman poet Ovid, an epic narrative from before Shakespeare’s time that has been said to have hugely influenced The Bard and was perhaps even his favorite book.

Renee Elizabeth Wilson and Manu Kumasi in Metamorphoses at Folger Theatre. Image credit Brittany Diliberto

The work encapsulates everything, from the origins of the world to myths that tell stories of the how and why; particularly of interactions between the Gods and their human ‘contemporaries.’ The cast of characters includes many greats from King Midas and his golden touch, Phaethon’s fatal chariot ride, Myrrha’s incestuous passion for her father, Aphrodite’s cursed love, and Orpheus’s travel to the Underworld.

Director Psalmayene 24 calls Folger’s Metamorphoses a “mythic choreo-drama” that has within it “almost everything that makes us human.” And indeed it is a spellbinding potpourri of the constantly evolving state of the world.

Dejeanette Horne and Renea S. Brown in Metamorphoses at Folger Theatre. Image credit Brittany Diliberto

The opening portion is told entirely through movement, and may be harder to understand without narration. But then the fun unfolds through myths  — told as cautionary tales? explanations? life instructions? — and offered in this iteration of Zimmerman’s work with the unique perspective and bold humor of the Black experience.

The cast is outstanding as well as historic. Some particulars to note: Jon Hudson Odom is especially enthralling with accents, dancing, and stirring emotion; Renea S. Brown serves up all of the feelings in her intense volley between shame and desire; Manu Kumasi sparkles in every aspect of his Folger debut; and Miss Kitty — the Water Nymph — silently (and sometimes seductively) pulls all of Metamorphoses’s stories of love, greed, violence, kindness, stupidity, and magnanimity together into a collective transformational journey of humankind.

You’ll love it.

Metamorphoses is on stage at Folger Theatre through June 16, 2024. Run time: 80 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available here