(Part of a series about creating a new production of “Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman at Georgia Shakespeare, summer, 2013.)
You can’t tell stories about life without telling stories about death. I don’t mean to be macabre; it’s just true.
I walked into my mom’s assisted living home this morning and saw a lovely woman’s picture on the piano. I knew what that meant. When a resident dies, the staff puts their photo in a frame and displays it with a fresh flower to commemorate their passing. Sometimes, like today, the resident is someone I’ve met, someone I greeted every time I visited my mom. Someone I will miss.
I went to rehearsal with death on my mind.
In “Metamorphoses”, we tell several stories of death. One is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice is killed by a snake on her wedding day and taken away to the underworld. Orpheus tries his best to live without her, but eventually feels compelled to travel to the underworld and beg for her return. His journey and its heartbreaking conclusion remind us how far we are willing to go to escape the bonds of death – especially a death that comes too soon.
But there is another story, the tale of Baucis and Philemon, about a death so beautiful, so inevitable, that it almost feels joyous. It too, is a love story, but it doesn’t begin at a wedding. It begins many decades later, after a long marriage, and it tells of two people who have lived with each other for so many years that they can’t imagine a greater gift than to die at the same moment. They want to say their last “farewell” together. At the end, they metamorphose into trees, their branches intermingling.