BWW Interview: Louise Lamson of METAMORPHOSES at The Guthrie Theater
I walk into the Guthrie Theater and I immediately see a pool of water built on the Wurtele Thrust Stage...and I immediately know I'm in for a theatrical treat. Metamorphoses, written and directed by the incomparable Mary Zimmerman, has taken Minneapolis by storm after its run in California (it's a co-production with Berkeley Rep). Our very own BWW Reviewer Karen Bovard called it "...a visual feast,". As a captivated audience member and a performer, I was so hungry to know some of the thoughts of the show's ten ensemble members. Luckily, I was able to do so a few days later over a delightful phone call.
Louise Lamson is from Chicago and has been with the show from its inception, and has since followed this show to Broadway and more. She is also a powerhouse performer onstage in this production and could not have been nicer when doing this interview with a first time interviewer:
BJ: First of all thank you so much for doing this interview. I'm so excited for this.
LL: I am so happy to be doing it with you. It's my pleasure.
BJ: I want to start off with this interview just congratulating you. I went into the show completely blind. I knew it was the "play with the pool". That's what I've heard from my sister who was also a theater major in college. And I just sat there just completely mesmerized by this show. There was something somewhere in the program that says it [the play] was "visual poetry" and that is the most accurate description that I could think of for the show. And just what it takes to create that...I just I have so much respect for you.
LL: Well that's Mary Zimmerman. Yes.
BJ: But of course you also contribute to that as well, I'm sure.
LL: I got to be fortunate enough to be there from the very beginning from its inception, which is pretty remarkable.
BJ: So, with how much I was taken aback by the show as just an audience member, I can not begin to imagine what it was like to be told that you were going to be a part of this from its very beginning. I was just wondering if you could talk about how you began in this process and about the show's creation from the beginning?
LL: Absolutely. So, I was a student at Northwestern University. And Mary was one of my professors and "Six Myths" was part of the season. And I auditioned. I had already had a class with Mary. So I knew her, you know, in that way, as a student. But I didn't know what she was like as a director until this process. And I knew from the audition that I was in love with how she worked. So, when she had her individual [auditions] she wanted to pull us all together as a group to see what that chemistry was like. And all we knew is that it was called "Six Myths" and that it was going to take place in a pool of water. And at that point, I don't know if you know anything about Mary's process, but she writes in time. So what happens is, like, we will go into a rehearsal room and I remember at first we would just play around with some images. It was very exciting in that way that every day I would show up, it was like being in a candy store because you didn't know what candy you were gonna get that day. We had tremendous trust in her. We also had just, honestly, the best time together. We would all go out and socialize. I have this memory: I was backstage and I was in the vom ready and at Northwestern you don't have a very long run. And it was the last show and I remember before we started, before I heard the music, I was so melancholy and I remember thinking to myself "I do not want this to end." And you will not believe what the next thought was: "I could do this show for the rest of my life." I am grateful. It's kind of a remarkable thing; to have something like this in your life, especially this show, as a touchstone. And I do feel very fortunate.
BJ: Kind of going off of that; So, you've been involved with the show for a couple of incarnations. Can you just give a brief synopsis of where you have been able to take this show?
LL: Yes, it's been more than a couple times. So we we did it at Northwestern and then, maybe a year two years later, [at] Lookingglass Theatre Company. It was its professional debut. I think we opened in early fall and it was such a big hit that we ended up running it for months and months and months. And I actually I didn't know it was going to run for months and months, so I went off and I did two other shows and then I got to come back for closing. Then we went on tour. And that was to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, then to Seattle Repertory Theatre, and then to the Mark Taper Forum in L.A.. And then I think after some time we found out that it was going to be happening at Second Stage Theatre in New York City. And then we moved it from Second Stage to The Circle in the Square Theater on Broadway. But then I heard wind that it might be happening again at Lookingglass. And then, after that, it was part of a co-production with Arena Stage and went to Arena Stage in Washington D.C. And then, I think, it was this fall that I received an email from Mary saying that it might be happening that the Guthrie and she was trying to figure out who is interested, and I was overjoyed. Because as a little girl, I'm from Iowa, I would spend all my theatrical experiences, I remember, in the old Guthrie Theater. My parents would take us to Minneapolis, my sister and myself. And so, it was kind of my dream to work at the Guthrie Theater and then it became a co-production with Berkeley Rep. So we did a run at Berkeley and then now here in Minneapolis at the Guthrie.
BJ: Talking a little bit about the reception of the show. For example, as I was walking out of the theatre, I overheard a group of friends walking out of the theatre as well. And I overheard one of the people say "I just...it made me feel more." And those were her exact words. And I just was listening to that and thinking about the impact the show has. And I'm sure you have so many stories about different receptions from different audience members. Are you comfortable sharing a little bit of that? Of some of the reception that you've received?
LL: Yes. You, as an actor, are pulling from our own lives and we're also just trying our best to tell these stories. And you do not know how they're going to connect with. But, opening night at the Guthrie, someone came up to me and said he was watching the show with his father and they had lost their mother. That idea of loss and the grieving process, suddenly you find yourself having this very intimate conversation with a stranger. We can have a deeper connection as human beings that I never would have had if it were not for this experience of watching and doing this play.
So, you know my favorite part of the play is this moment at the end where, if you're talking about response, it's where we were blowing up the candles. And there's something about that moment; the ritual of blowing out a candle. And also I just think it's one of the most beautiful ways to end this play. We're sitting in silence together in the pool as the cast, and then there's twelve hundred people in the theater and we're all in silence. That is sacred to me because I feel connected to every human being in that space.
BJ: I just have one last question for you: So you touched a little bit about the play's theme of transformation. Has this play, since you've been involved with this play since its beginning, has this play helped you through any kind of personal transformation? Or has any personal transformations helped you tell the story in a way that you couldn't before?
LL: Yes, I mean, it's so interesting for me to reflect on my 21-year-old-self playing Alcyone, the wife of Ceyx who pleads with him not to go because she has a premonition that he is going to die. And sure enough she's proven right and and she ends up searching for him on this shore. And then the gods smile upon her and bring his body back and then they both change into birds. And I would like to think that my 21-year-old self did a damn good job at that, but I...it haunts me to think of some recording of that performance. I mean, we're actors and so you know that it's our job. Even if we haven't experienced something, we're supposed to find a way to do it right, regardless. But I am now in a place in my life where I have experienced that kind of loss. And so it's sometimes overwhelming, because there's too much to pull from. But that was come with age and with time.
After my microphone had stopped recording, Louise and I talked for a little bit after. She talked about how she felt so honored to be with this show and is excited to see where it will go, and see if she can still follow it (to quote her, "You never know. I'd never say never.") Lamson's warmth and curiosity filled our conversation in such a caring way that it was easy for me to see how much she cared for this play. And I can say that this caring nature translates perfectly onstage. I urge anyone to go see Metamorphoses at The Guthrie Theatre, running until May 19th.
Photo #5758 Louise Lamson (Alcyone and others) in the Guthrie Theater and Berkeley Repertory Theatre's co-production of Metamorphoses based on the myths of Ovid, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman from the translation by David R. Slavitt. Scenic design by Daniel Ostling, costume design by Mara Blumenfeld, lighting design by T.J. Gerckens, sound design by Andre Pluess and original music by Willy Schwarz. April 13 - May 19, 2019 on the Wurtele Thrust at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Dan Norman.