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'Metamorphoses' Shines Spotlight on African-American Actress

Eve M.Ferguson | 3/15/2013, 1:25 p.m.

Twenty-five year-old Ashleigh Lathrop has never been to Washington, D.C. But for the patrons of Arena Stage's latest production, "Metamorphoses," her first time in the nation's capital won't soon be forgotten.

The play, written and directed by Macarthur Genius Award recipient Mary Zimmerman, shines the spotlight on the young African-American actress, who originally hails from Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, by featuring her in some of the unique production's most powerful roles.

Based on Greco-Roman mythology through the tales inscribed by Ovid, "Metamorphoses," uses the vehicle of water to recount ancient stories of morality, caution and romance.

Staged in the Fichlander's theater-in-the-round, the entire 90-minute production takes place in water. A pool installed in the center allows the actors to use the medium as a metaphor, both as the giver of life and destroyer of the living.

Played out within and around the pool, the young actress opens the magical spell of storytelling as the daughter of King Midas, who was granted a wish by the gods to make everything he touches turn to gold. The wish has cataclysmic consequences when he hugs his young daughter, played by Lathrop, who turns into metal and falls, stiff and lifeless, backwards into the water.

As the stories unfold, Lathrop takes on the role of the hunger that plagues Erysichthon, who has chosen profit over humility, and was punished by the gods with an insatiable need to eat that ends with him consuming his own foot.

Wearing a stocking cap over her face, Lathrop transforms into a seething, clinging entity that hangs on his back, tormenting him relentlessly. The pool, itself, further challenges her acting, but also has an added benefit.

"The pool makes me lighter, and that makes me easier to lift. But the biggest thing is knowing when to breathe, especially in (the role of) Hunger," she said. "For the majority of that scene because I have a stocking cap on, I can't really breathe. There are specific times when I can inhale, and the whole rest of the time I am just breathing out and breathing out. Breath plays a really important role with the pool."

In fact, it was that role that led her to pursue acting - and veering from her intended profession in the medical field. She saw "Metamorphoses" growing up.

"My favorite is Myrrha because it is the most challenging as an actor--what she goes through emotionally and her state of mind. The character is rich and complex," she said.

"But I love playing Hunger. I saw this play way, way back, and it is the play that actually made me decide to do theater," Lathrop confessed. "When I saw it I said, 'I want to play Hunger. I want to be that role. I think that role would be so much fun.'"

In the most memorable tale of this totally mesmerizing play, Lathrop takes on the role of Myrrha, who inadvertently falls in love with her own father.

Foolishly listening to the musings of the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, Myrrha admits that if she were to fall in love, it would be with a man just like her father. In her own fickleness, the goddess makes Myrrha pursue her own father mercilessly, finally culminating in nights of lovemaking where she presents herself to her father unbeknownst to him.