Arts & Events

Theater Review: 'Metamorphoses'--Inferno Theatre Brings Ovid to Berkeley

By Ken Bullock
Thursday October 24, 2013 - 08:19:00 PM

"Remember, if you find a fork in the road—take it!"

The Satyr's advice or dare—tossed off by a lusty, snorting Valentina Emeri as the half-human animal, or half-animal human—is taken up by the whole troupe as Inferno Theatre's cast appears to endlessly expand in number throughout their new show, each player taking on a new shape, as they proceed through the tangled intricacies of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses,' in company founder Giulio Cesare Perrone's deft, charming, yet often shadowy adaptation of Ovid's own adaptation of the transformations of classical mythology. 

Starting off with a furtive band of Neo-Shamans stealing into the woods to celebrate the earth, carrying suitcases (which they empty, full of dead leaves) and potted trees, led by Orpheus, a dreadlocked, clear-voiced Rudradeep Chakrabarti playing harmonium and singing Qawwali songs, 'Metamorphoses' has an almost whimsical quality at first, like a slightly skewed version of an old joke: A half-dozen Neo-Shamans walk into the woods ... 

But soon the marvelous interplay between the actors—the best yet from this ensemble-based physical/gestural theater company—turns the whole stage, the floor space of the historic South Berkeley Community Church, into a constantly moving fresco of their transformations of shape and character—a snarling Lycaon (Michael Needham) corners an antlered Actaeon (Dilan MacHardy), with Diana the Queen of the Hunt (Simone Bloch) nearby, framed in the phases of the moon, nocking her bow; Echo (Sabrina Wenske), ever-repeating the other's last word, while Narcissus (Freddy Izaguirre-Merlos) regards his own shape, reflected in water; Orpheus making the eerie, stiff, shrill-voiced company of the dead bop a little with his catchy music, but unable to bring Eurydice (Nkechi) back to the light ... 

Just a few of the metamorphoses that are played out before the spectators, all given tokens, grains of corn, by the Satyr, as the old world of myth unfolds, then folds back up inside the modern world we're more familiar with. 

But the denizens of the old world of myth also look back, sometimes expressing regret, or defiance: "Daedalus is my name, son, and Icarus is yours, remember?" or "Lycaon was my name when I was a man ... [Echo repeats the end of his sentences] ... Zeus was no god; he was only a man, and I was the only one to defy him." 

(The Titans, those defeated primordials, whose faint memory Herman Melville was dedicated to.) 

And the Satyr is "homeless at the moment." Narcissus cautions Echo about Orpheus: "Go easy on the guy. His wife just died awhile ago, and he thinks he can still see her, talk to her." 

The past and present constantly come together, its own transformation ... 

The music by the cast is played on harp, melodian and guitar. Perrone's stage direction of the actors works seamlessly with his set and costume designs, at one point turning Nkechi, with the addition of a carved African bulging torso and a kind of marionette rig, manipulated by other actors onstage, into a strange vision of Gaia, Mother Earth, become a spider puppet, legs combing the air ... Michael Palumbo's lighting and Bruno Louchouarn's sound design and compositional music take the crystallized image of the performance even further, between the redwood walls of this old Arts and Crafts church. 

It's exciting to watch a company that began as a unique one develop, enrich and surpass what it's already done and move into new territory with confidence. 

'Metamorphoses' is the perfect theatrical entertainment for this time of year, All-Hallows and All Saints. 

This weekend only, a $5 ticket promotion. See 

8 pm, Thursday through Sunday (Fridays at 9), through November 23. No Sunday shows October 27 or November 10. Friday, November 9 at Laney College, Oakland, 900 Fallon, near Lake Merritt BART. All other shows at South Berkeley Community Church, 1802 Fairview (entrance on Ellis), off Adeline near Ashby BART. $10-$25 (Thursdays & Sundays, 2-for-one until November 21), $5-$20 at Laney. or for info: 984-4914.