Metamorphosis: The transformation from one form to another. This is the core of the thought-provoking dark comedy Metamorphosis written by Franz Kafka. Gregor Samsa (Gísli Örn Gardarsson) wakes one fateful morning to find he has completely changed shape, from a hard working, breadwinning, family-oriented son into a being (seemingly an insect like a cockroach) that finds it hard to communicate with his family, who are completely shocked upon discovering his state. His boss Herr Steithl (Vikingur Kristjansson) enters to find out why he is not yet at work, and fires him. As a result, the family begins to work hard to earn money, as Gregor was previously the sole provider for his family. They grow tired and driven by the need for money and their relationship with Gregor sadly deteriorates. He is treated like an infestation that ultimately must be terminated.
VesturPort and Lyric Hammersmith’s physically demanding production of Metamorphosis with direction and adaptation by David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson and production by Dýri Jónsson engaged me from the first moment. A churning composition by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis underscores the play and as such sets the tempo for the production. An upbeat song awakens the stage as Lighting Designer Björn Helgasonsoft morning light illuminates the space. A tremendous two-story set by Börkur Jónsson presents on the first floor a homey, country-style kitchen adorned with delicate wallpaper, framed pictures, and a sturdy wooden table and four chairs. To the left we see a staircase covered with a red runner and to the right a cushy “dad’s” chair sits under a large window. A prominently placed violin rests comfortably on the wall, which belongs to Greta (Selma Björnsdóttir) and becomes ever so important as the play goes on.
We are introduced to each member of the family as they move in time with the beautiful music, which is modern with classical undertones. Lucy (Edda Arnljótsdóttir) is a mother who is all about pleasantries and making the house a home for her loving family. Herman (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) is a typical jokester dad but also quite a disciplinarian, and Greta (Selma Björnsdóttir) is a bright, artistic girl who becomes driven by her brother’s condition. She goes to check on him as suspenseful blue lighting awakens the second floor of the house set, as the suspenseful sound of bass thrives (sound design by Nick Manning) and to everyone’s surprise, the room is inverted! Gísli Örn Gardarsson, wearing a business suit, stands suspended in his bed (which is now on the back wall!) and soon begins to effortlessly climb the walls of the room and the furniture in a very bug-like fashion. Impressively, his feet do not touch ground until nearly the middle of the play. Over the course of the evening, Gregor’s physical state worsens as his family neglects to feed him – as if he is an animal. Gísli Örn Gardarsson’s stamina and embodiment of this physicality is courageous and heart-breaking as he is outcast from everything he loves and soon has nothing to call his own.
The character relationships morph throughout the play’s journey. There are delightful scenes between mother and daughter as Selma Arnljótsdóttir and Edda Björnsdóttir dance playfully. Movement is vital to this piece, as at many times the actors move rhythmically with the musical score, sometimes in militant style. One of my favorite comedic moments was when Herr Fischer (Vikingur Kristjansson) repeatedly licked his fingers to count his money with pride, and Herman (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) followed suit, all choreographed with the score. Both of these actors have excellent range, as a night of drinking ensues and they become jovial, energetic, and unfortunately aggressive by the end. Vikingur Kristjansson brings great energy to the stage with his character-development and strong objectives, claiming as Herr Fischer, “I hate pretention.” That surely got a laugh from the audience, as Herr Fisher is very well-off and quite showy. Ingvar E.Sigurdsson is quite funny and free, to show his softer side, and at other times he is convincingly a strong disciplinarian demanding respect from his son Gregor, beating him repeatedly and arguing loudly. Likewise, Selma Björnsdóttir also has some powerful scenes as Greta when chastising her brother, as she becomes his sole caretaker and is driven mad by aspects of it. She also has the stress of working hard and sacrifices playing her violin in the process, which is killing Gregor.
By the end of the production, I found myself marveling at the human form, as exposed and raw with all its muscles and the bones of the spine. There was a striking fragility. A standing ovation greeted the actors as they took their bows and a very informative talk-back session followed in which the idea was raised that Gregor’s metamorphosis was not of that into an insect, like a cockroach necessarily, but perhaps that of something his family could not stand to see, could not bear to believe was true about him. This play delves deep into the dark places of the human soul and how we sometimes thrive on the demolition of another person or idea in order to attain or maintain power.
Metamorphosis is a truly poignant piece that tugs at the heart-strings. It’s well worth your time, and an enjoyable evening of theatre that blends culture, music, movement, and acting into a beautiful work of art.
Metamorphosis is presented as part of ‘Nordic Cool 2013’ – The Kennedy Center’s “initiative to foster an appreciation for Nordic heritage and an understanding of the region’s emerging global influence.”
Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes,with no intermission.
Metamorphosis plays through February 22, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater- 2700 F Street, Northwest, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online, or call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324.
More pictures of Metamorphisis.