For the ancient Romans, “following your heart” rarely resulted in finding true love – more often than not, it ended in untimely death, being turned into a tree, or thousands of years of exile. According to Ovid Metamorphoses, the 2022 edition of the McGill Classics Play, love is to blame for the many divine misadventures recorded in Roman mythology. However, as the play unfolds, Metamorphoses reveals that love is a power to be embraced, not rejected.
Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BCE-17 CE), commonly known as Ovid, was one of the most famous writers of what is known as the “Golden Age of Latin Literature”. While Ovid achieved success through his love poems, he was also forced into exile in 8 CE for allegedly encouraging illicit love in his elegy. Ars Amatoria— an exile that was only revoked in 2017, more than 2,000 years later. Fortunately, most of Ovid’s poetry has survived, including his best-known work: The Narrative Poem the Metamorphoses.
While no less artistically impressive, the McGill Classics Play, supported by a nonprofit of the same name, is a slightly more recent tradition than Ovid’s poetry. In 2011, Lynn Kozak, a professor of classical studies at McGill, issued a simple challenge to ambitious classical studies students: translate original Greek or Roman texts and adapt them into original amateur theater productions. Since then, the McGill Classics Play has staged a wide range of impressive works, from Sophocles’ Philoktetes to Euripides’ Hekabe. This year, Taryn Power, U3 Arts, and Keisuke Nakajima, BA ’21, have assumed the roles of co-directors. After nearly a year of hard work, they succeeded in adapting Ovid’s poetry into a narrative that addresses questions about the nature of love.
“We did the translations ourselves,” Nakajima said in an email to The McGill Tribune. “A lot of dialogue [and] the monologues are taken from Ovid’s poems [….] On the other hand, there are a few scenes where we took more creative freedom.
Some of those freedoms included Orpheus’ (El Bush, U1 Arts) love for wearing Crocs in sport mode, Romeo and Juliet-inspired dialogue between star-crossed lovers Pyramus (Alexandra An) and Thisbe (Emma Weiser, U1 Arts ), and the main narrative that connects the story: Ovid’s creative crisis (Gabrielle Gaston, U3 Arts) after his exile. Luckily for him, Amor (Fiona Vail, U2 Arts), a goddess of love, happily comes to persuade him to tell his favorite stories in hopes of rekindling his love for poetry – and perhaps for the goddess Amor too. .
Ovid’s work often played with gender and sexuality, meaning the piece was ripe for interpretation. Nakajima and Power spent time carefully interpreting each line. For example, a skit featuring Iphis (Sierra Burgoyne, U3 Science) depicts a situation where Iphis, who is biologically female, poses as male to protect herself from her father’s misogynistic beliefs.
“There were basically two readings of the story in Ovid, and we ended up picking one,” Power said. “One is that it’s a lesbian story, and the other is that it’s a gender nonconformity story. We ended up choosing the second one, just because honestly I think it’s more “Ovid” [….] It’s really not like a physical metamorphosis. Everything is performative.
The translations of the texts by the directors themselves were exercises in creativity and critical thinking. The piece features several fun original folk tunes and nostalgic ballads created by Troy Lebane (U4 Music Education) and musician Taya Kendall, which further emphasize the themes of love and heartbreak in Ovid’s poems. Ovid’s Success Metamorphoses only confirms the resilience of the cast and crew: they created a show from a dead language, brought characters to life, and produced a performance in the chaos of a pandemic. The love the directors have for the production shows that Ovid’s words about love – although from another time and another language – continue to carry weight today.
“It really is a production where everyone helped out,” Power said. “Troy did music, my best friend Taya did music and graphics and everything. Grace, [the set designer]literally dedicated his life to this play, and so I couldn’t ask for more support outside of the cast and inside the cast.