Lovers of 20th century literature know Kafka and his darkly dangerous worlds of angst and hopelessness.
And they know Metamorphosis, it’s tale of the demise of the man-turned-bug frequently acts as a disturbing introduction to Kafka’s razor-sharp world of alienation.
In 1969, Steven Berkoff–of the famed theatre of self-performance–adapted Kafka’s story to the stage. In 1983 his adaptation was turned into an opera by Brian Howard.
Now, Berkoff’s adaptation has been adapted to a music-theatre piece by Susan Galbraith, the artistic director of the Alliance for New Music-Theatre.
This music-theatre Metamorphosis is currently playing at Capital Fringe’s new Trinidad Theatre – 1358 Florida Avenue. NE, in Washington, DC.
This Metamorphosis is a compelling piece of theatre in so many different ways.
First of all, the live Cellist, Schuyler Slack, engages the ear in a continuous, discordantly beautiful score throughout the performance. Not only is the music an active participant in the on-stage drama, but Slack himself sometimes gets in on the tension.
Secondly, Susan Galbraith’s direction of Metamorphosis captures the script’s iconic of depiction of character and action while keeping its musical strata low key and intimate. Eschewing representational stylistic choices, Galbraith keeps our attention on the family’s dynamics, not Kafka’s intrapersonal anguish.
Finally, the four-person ensemble of actor/singers have both presence and skill, and singing voices that are rich and character-enhancing, aided fully by Musical Director Alison Leadbetter-Hines.
Ari Jacobson plays the traveling salesman Gregor who wakes up one morning lying on his back with his small legs wiggling before him and his voice moving up on the octave ladder. He develops an excellent contrast between the hard-working, loving son who loves to drink milk and the physically ambidextrous bug-man who prefers most of all rotting vegetables and moldy cheese.
Sets and projections by Joey Wade give Jacobson plenty of levels to climb and dangle from bug-like and contorted, while animator Janet Antich provides some original visuals that parallel nicely the bug-man’s physicality. She also offers us settings, characters, and a host over stimulating two-dimensional settings.
His family–Mrs. Samsa (Pamela Bierly-Jusino), Mr. Samsa (David Millstone), and sister (Lily Kerrigan)–soon discover that the family breadwinner has oddly transformed into a strange looking bug-man. They are horrified, repulsed, and tragically sad, intermittently, and sometimes simultaneously.
Each family member reacts differently to Gregor’s transformation.
Bierly-Jusino’s Mrs. Samsa gives us inner turmoil: on the one hand, she wants to help her son deal with his painful loss of his humanity; on the other hand, she cannot bear to look at him, squiggling dung beetle that he is.
Millstone’s Mr. Samsa gives this Metamorphosis its villain, albeit a villain not so much evil as vainly self-important. This selfish family patriarch has no love for his son at all; in fact, he does not even possess a modicum of gratitude, given the fact that Gregor became the family’s “father” following Mr. Samsa’s health issues.
The family-saint is Kerrigan’s Greta. Kerrigan does a wonderful job giving Gregor’s care-giving sister her fierce internal conflict: a combination of deep love and devotion to her brother and endless weariness at having to care for him and feed him and clean up after him.
And it’s the sister’s role that really sets the thematic structure for this Metamorphosis. No longer a story about existential despair and alienation, or about Kafka’s own experience of being haunted by a ravaging loneliness and feelings of aesthetic isolation and personal idiosyncrasy, this Metamorphosis gives us a family parable.
A hardworking, family-oriented son, who has turned his life over to his family’s needs, is suddenly and inexplicably transformed into a hideous “monster,” a creature that the family members have difficulty seeing as even human.
He can no longer work for the family, supporting them and providing them with a bright and glorious future; now, he has become their burden.
This Metamorphosis explores those family dynamics: the wear and tear on love and nurturing, on empathy and one’s creative impulses, on family itself and the bonds that tie us together.
It is a Metamorphosis for America in the 21st century.
Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.