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The Folger Spotlight

Director's Notes: Psalmayene 24 on Metamorphoses

Elevating Black Humanity as All Humanity

a Black man onstage at Folger Theatre holding a microphone
a Black man onstage at Folger Theatre holding a microphone

The first day of rehearsal for our production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses coincided with the great solar eclipse of 2024. I took this coincidence as a propitious sign—a sort of blessing from the gods that felt aligned with the spirit of this play.

(Oddly enough, this is the second piece I’ve directed that had a first rehearsal fall on the same day as an eclipse. Go figure.)

Metamorphoses is a magnificent play that allows audiences to see a vast and splendid spectrum of human behavior. Zimmerman not only gives us a greatest hits of myths in this play, but she gifts us with a mirror that reflects the gorgeous and gruesome face of humanity. In early conversations about this production with Folger’s visionary artistic director Karen Ann Daniels, she told me something to the effect of, “Because we’ll just be opening up the building after major renovations, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a pool onstage.” This made total sense, so I quickly embraced the idea of doing this production sans pool. In fact, I became almost giddy about it. As brilliant as the pool conceit is, I was excited to explore how this robust script could support an alternate interpretation that didn’t include literal water on stage. So having settled on that, Karen Ann and I began to discuss the makeup of the ensemble. The idea of an all-Black ensemble was bandied about, but I wasn’t convinced that was the right approach for this production.

Then Tyre Nichols got killed by the police. That was the moment I knew we had to do this production with an all Black ensemble. Tyre Nichols was a 29-year-old Black man—a father, an avid amateur photographer, a skateboarder—who worked for FedEx. All the evidence leads one to believe that when Tyre received a lethal beating by Memphis police officers, his only crime was being a Black man in America.

There has been a morbid parade of Black people turned martyrs who have been killed by the police. You would think I’d be desensitized by now. And for a while I was—as a defense mechanism or maybe a survival technique. But Tyre’s killing in January 2023 pulled me into a portal of grief. In making my way out of that emotional no-man’s-land, I landed on what this production is. This production is a ritual meant to celebrate and elevate Black humanity while connecting us to all humanity.

This production is a celebration and survey of culture from the African diaspora. This production is a mythic choreo-drama. I think this play has something valuable, rich, and illuminating to say through the lens of an all Black ensemble. This is the case because within this play exists a marvelous pageant of universal dualities: mortality and immortality, humanity and divinity, wealth and poverty, kindness and cruelty, greed and generosity, love and animosity, desire and contentment, folly and wisdom—almost everything that makes us human. In one breathtaking play. What a blessing.

About the director

Psalmayene 24

Psalmayene 24