Innovative ‘Metamorphosis’ translates novella creatively to stage
ArtsEmerson puts refreshing new twist on Kafka’s masterpiece
Published: Friday, March 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 11:03
In Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella “The Metamorphosis,” protagonist Gregor Samsa is a hardworking German man with a solid sense of morality. One morning, however, he wakes up in his own home and finds his body has morphed into that of a hideous insect. Despite his changed appearance, his human−like thoughts and words still make sense to him. Sadly, his family is unable to understand anything Gregor says. Their relationship with him quickly sours, and Gregor is soon banned from entering any area of the house outside of his room.
Bringing words to life through theater seems enough of a challenge in itself. Tackling words that effectively portray a human’s transformation into an unintelligible giant bug, however, is a challenge on its own level, one that ArtsEmerson overcame with inspired creativity.
The play touches on a variety of issues: How important are appearances to the ones we trust most in this world? Can the loss or gain of power alter the nature of a human being? What are the rules of disease and obligation? These questions and more were raised in this atypical story, which was told in an unconventional format.
The set, divided into two parts, had a main level with a normal room orientation, as if the viewer were looking at a family seated at a kitchen table. The top level gave the illusion that the viewer was (in keeping with the insect theme), a fly on the ceiling looking down into the bedroom. The floor, therefore, was where one would expect a back wall to be, and the bed was upright and vertical. Lighting was used tastefully, and it kept with the mood of each scene. Darker scenes were matched with dim lighting, and normal conversations were given a regular wash. In one scene, white lights shone through the vertical cracks of the top room’s floorboards to create the illusion of a symbolic jail cell. The only distracting aspect of the production was the music, which often felt melodramatic and unnecessary.
Rather than relying on ornate costumes to depict the creepy−crawly aspect of Gregor’s character, the production instead chose the acrobatic talents of Gisli Orn Gardarsson. Gardarsson’s ability to navigate around the set like a true insect was impressive enough — the fact that he could also deliver his lines flawlessly while upside−down was an added factor well−received by the audience. Overall, Gardarsson was the ideal actor for the part. His talents were matched by Selma Bjornsdottir, who played Gregor’s sister, Greta. Able to embody both the empathy of a young girl and the rage of a grown woman, Bjornsdottir made her character’s transformation seamless and believable.
Unfortunately, Gregor and Greta were paired with parents of less impressive talents. Ingvar Sigurdsson played Herman, the angry and lazy father of the family. Though able to embody these two traits quite well, Sigurdsson was unable to convince the audience of any other emotional qualities. For instance, his drunken state in one of the later scenes seemed contrived, and his subsequent breakdown was of similar caliber. Edda Arnljotsdottir, who played Lucy, acted a sub−par mother. Most distinctive was her fight with Greta, which was executed not only awkwardly, but also stiffly, hindering the impact of the moment. Arnljotsdottir did offer comic relief at various points throughout the play, but, outside of that, her ability to convincingly play Lucy was lacking.
Overall, the production was highly impressive and mind−blowingly innovative. The team took on a difficult script, yet made it look effortless — a difficult balance to strike. “Metamorphosis” will have you questioning society, morality and yourself. As they say in the play, “The time will come when we will clear the vermin from society and you are on the street.” So, who are the real vermin?
ArtsEmerson’s rendition of “Metamorphosis” played from Feb. 27 to March 3 at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and ran for a full 80 minutes with no intermission.