‘Metamorphosis’ at Alliance for New Music-Theatre

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How does one begin a review about a boy turned into a dung beetle? I suppose, just like that. And, no, I’m not giving anything away, unless you have never had even a cursory acquaintance with foreign literature. If you have not….this is a play about a boy who turns into a dung beetle, based on a book called Metamorphosis by Kafka, which is about the same thing. It’s an interesting concept. Much like this show.

From left: Ari Jacobson (Gregor Samsa) and Lily Kerrigan (Greta Samsa) in 'Metamorphosis." Photograph © Hilsdon Photography.
From left: Ari Jacobson (Gregor Samsa) and Lily Kerrigan (Greta Samsa) in ‘Metamorphosis.” Photograph © Hilsdon Photography.

Susan Galbraith, who directed the piece (and is also the Artistic Director for Alliance for New Music-Theatre) definitely gave us an interesting concept with this show. She gave us a show filled with seemingly random singing (not randomly placed songs, just randomly sung lines) and intermittent use of projected images on the back wall. This highly stylized show apparently faced several massive setbacks the day before opening (which she mentioned in her curtain speech), but managed to pull through into a strangely liminal space. Again…It was interesting, and even a day later, as I write this, I’m not sure if I liked it or not.

Let me say that I appreciate it. I appreciate the level of commitment it takes to devise a piece like this. I appreciate the work it takes to overcome the obstacles that the cast and crew faced. I appreciate the artistic flourishes that were presented on the stage. So let me tell you about this show and you can determine if you would like it, yourself.

The show is, as I said, very stylized. The movement and song seem to have sprung up around random inspirations that were developed into specific bits. The comic nature of most of the cartoons projected on the wall was giggle-inducing. The physical acumen of Ari Jacobson (Gregor) is compelling. Pamela Bierly Jusino (Mrs. Samsa) is immense fun to watch. David Millstone (Mr. Samsa) makes you want to smack him around constantly. Lily Kerrigan (Greta) is uninteresting. The fourth wall gets broken on a regular basis. There are moments where you cringe and moments where you laugh. The show, like this review, seems a bit confused at its own intentions. So, let’s see if we can’t make some sense of this seeming chaos.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the actors. Lily Kerrigan exhibits a lack of focus.  Her choices were broad and played without intention, which left me feeling like I was watching a character who never grows or changes. Pamela Bierly Jusino was poised and graceful. She thought about everything she did and allowed her emotions to flow around her intentions. Even when she was in the throes of the highest melodrama, at her core was an honesty that lent credence to her performance. David Millstone was emotionally engaged, but never quite followed through on his physical impulses (specifically, the scene when he is trying to beat his boy with his cane, his whole body radiated relaxation and his swings never seemed even vaguely convincing). Ari Jacobson swung from the ceiling and sat on his head and leapt around the stage like an acrobat. His vocals tended toward the histrionic, but his performance was sincere and powered his physical presence.

From left: Lily Kerrigan (Greta Samsa), Pamela Bierly-Jusino (Mrs. Samsa), David Millstone (Mr. Samsa), and Ari Jacobson (Gregor Samsa) in 'Metamorphosis.' Photograph © Hilsdon Photography.
From left: Lily Kerrigan (Greta Samsa), Pamela Bierly-Jusino (Mrs. Samsa), David Millstone (Mr. Samsa), and Ari Jacobson (Gregor Samsa) in ‘Metamorphosis.’ Photograph © Hilsdon Photography.

The show in general, if given a bit of time and focus could metamorphose into something quite new (beautiful to some, less so to others). The moments when the actors seem to drift into a dream-state could be used to anchor the narrative squarely in the space between waking and sleeping where all things come together to make sense of the insensible. Unfortunately, they were not, themselves anchored or clearly defined, leaving me trying to navigate both dream and reality which stretched my focus too thin. The singing could have been used to transport us to the purely emotional heart of the words being sung, but the songs were all plaintive, leaving me without a foundation to build their emotional framework. The stylization could have been used to illustrate the massive shifts in each of the characters’ mindsets, but didn’t have the precision to sustain the world they inhabited.

We seem to have caught the show mid-transformation. No shiny carapace, just muscle and grit. The inner workings of this show, like the inner workings of any living thing have a beauty and a simplicity of their own. There is an innocence derived from elegance that pervades the choices made on stage. So, while the product is not quite finished yet, I believe that it should be encouraged. This is something different. I know that it will someday serve a purpose and enrich our artistic biosphere.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Metamorphosis plays through September 21, 2014 at Alliance for New Music-Theatre performing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call (202) 966-3104, or purchase them online.

LINKS

John Stoltenberg on Metamorphosis  in his column ‘Magic Time!’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Plunging into the Deep with Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis at Alliance for New Music-Theatre by Susan Galbraith.