METAMORPHOSES, Lookingglass Theatre Company, at the Ivanhoe Theater. Based on a verse epic by the Roman poet Ovid (banished by the emperor Augustus for his morally offensive writings), director Mary Zimmerman's new one-act is a whimsical, sometimes touching study of human desire. Interlocking tales framed by the legend of King Midas--whose golden touch turned his daughter into a statue--depict interactions between mortals and alternately cruel and compassionate deities. Zeus grants long life to an elderly couple by transforming them into intertwined trees, and in another tale a drowned man and his devoted widow are reunited as seabirds. But Aphrodite curses a virgin with incestuous passion for her father, and Apollo's human son courts disaster when he demands the right to drive the chariot of the sun.
The son recounts this last episode while reclining on a psychiatrist's floating couch. But such irreverent touches almost never descend to mere jokiness in these stylistically varied, imaginatively contemporized vignettes. Zimmerman hopes mythology's resonance will awaken us to the vanity of our own obsessions and the fragility of life, and to this end she employs a graceful ensemble well equipped to convey Ovid's verse (translated by David Slavitt) and precise, fluid, occasionally erotic gestural language. Mara Blumenfeld's clever costumes, T.J. Gerckens's atmospheric lighting, Willy Schwarz's evocative score, and Dan Ostling's handsome set--a pool of water, symbol of life's creative and destructive impulses, complemented by a Victorian-style doorway, a crystal chandelier, and a projected sky--enhance Zimmerman's coolly expressive storytelling.