Lumina Studio Theatre presents the works of Shakespeare, other plays from the classical repertory, and modern plays focusing on the beauty of language.
For its next production, the theater is going back to an ancient Roman poet whose work you may think you don’t know, except for the fact he wrote the story of “King Midas and the Touch of Gold,” among others.
His name was Ovid, and his crowning glory was “Metamorphoses,” a narrative poem that comprises nearly 12,000 lines, 15 books and 250 myths.
Playwright John O’Connor adapted some of the poem and the author’s life in a play entitled “Ovid on the Rocks” – which refers not to a drink but to the life of the famed poet in decline.
For the last 10 years of Ovid’s life, the Emperor Augustus had sent him into exile – to a far corner of the empire, in what is now a resort but then was “really grim,” said O’Connor.
The reason for the exile is unknown. It could have been that Ovid was aware of the promiscuity of the Emperor’s daughter, Julia, and didn’t tell him. Or, maybe it was the poet’s personality.
“Originally the title of the play was ‘Ovid in Exile,’ but we knew that wouldn’t get people in [the theater],” O’Connor laughed.
The playwright used historical names and places, but took his adaptation in a different direction – kind of like the relationship between the movie “Shakespeare in Love” and the “real” works of Shakespeare, he said.
Through the guidance of a fishwife and the leader of a troupe of traveling players, Ovid learns to make the best of his situation. By telling his stories, he becomes friendly with the island’s inhabitants and adjusts to his exile.
In a comic twist, the traveling players are performing works by the Greek writer Plautus – whose “farcical bawdy stories have clever slaves getting the better of their silly masters,” said O’Connor. They also inspired the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
O’Connor, a teacher of Shakespeare, said that in his Ovid play, the Roman poet learns how important “triviality” can be in life.
David Minton, managing and artistic director of Lumina, said he appreciates the playwright’s talent at adapting.
“I’ve always been a big fan of John’s adaptations of classical work – his ‘Tom Jones,’ ‘Canterbury Tales, and his Dickens plays, to name just a few,” he said. “When I heard about his interest in writing a play centered around Ovid, I was intrigued. I have been an avid reader of Greek and Roman myths since I was a child.
“John’s setting of Ovid’s tales in exile struck me as inspired and a very different treatment than ‘Metamorphosis: A Collection of Tales by Ovid,’ by Mary Zimmerman,” Minton continued. “The result is a marvelous combination of witty historical fiction, Plautus farce, and the magic of Ovid’s myths. This is simply an outstanding play, and it seemed a perfect match for Lumina’s adult company: the Lumina Theater Group.”
Lumina’s managing/artistic director staged some of the sections of “Ovid on the Rocks.” But he referred to the production as a “group effort” with the playwright, and with the troupe of actors – Kelly O’Connor, Ritchie Porter, Liz Porter, Grace Sperber-Whyte, and Michael Novello.
The theater company’s next production will be Minton’s own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” retitled, “Imogen Underground.”
Lumina’s Youth Company will perform the show during the first two weekends in December.
Minton said that “Ovid on the Rocks” is recommended for adult audiences but called it “also age-appropriate” for youngsters 11 years old and up.