Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., June 22, 2001
The Metamorphosis: Meating the Beetle
The Blue Theatre,
Through June 30
Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min
Eyes are windows to the soul, as the writer Du Bartas rhapsodized back in 1578. And if you're an insect, you've likely got a pair of compound eyes, which means you have dozens of potential windows to that soul. But does an insect even have a soul? Well, what if that insect was recently a man? Specifically: Gregor Samsa, from Franz Kafka's novella The Metamorphosis, who awoke one morning from uneasy dreams to find himself turned into a giant vermin? That would be some soul, then. Those would be some windows.
There are several windows -- literally -- in the Refraction Arts/Public Domain co-production of The Metamorphosis at the Blue Theatre, and they are among many windows to the soul of this staged version of the literary classic. Director and playwright Ron Berry and assistant director Cyndi Williams (who also helped with the script) have taken some liberties and some risks with this revered, itchy text from the Czech Republic's most famous depressive. They've compounded the number of things we must perceive onstage and attempted to provide the best view through those windows. An evocative soundtrack by Catherine Berry, John Barker, and Elizabeth Marquiz; jarringly edited films of modern and historical Prague, of mad chases through a shadowy urbanscape, of interminable train rides, all projected onto plain walls or a second-story wall made of overlapping windows; bits taken from three shorter Kafka works and a tome by Nabokov; even a small museum featuring reductive embodiments of situations from the author's life and writings. And, of course, the story itself.
Joey Hood has the role of Gregor, which requires him to well, to bug out from time to time. He scales walls and pillars, frenetically scuttles and leaps around the confines of his bedroom, horrifying his parents and sister, generally carrying on like a less effects-reliant version of Dr. Brundle in Cronenberg's The Fly. At least he does this in the beginning, while he still has his (if only physical) health and -- in one scene -- the energy to engage his father in a battle of feints and hissings, the two men circling and threatening like a pair of stag beetles.
Later, Gregor's spirit decays so far that he can't get around without crutches; these crutches -- not your ordinary Walgreens variety but props from some entomologist's nightmare of wood -- work well in transforming Hood bugward. The manner of locomotion, the sound of that right-side crutch scraping against the floor -- much physical work, believably done. Not that Hood's spoken parts are poor: He offers a solid imitation of the desperate, bedeviled office drone, often making us feel the mal in malingering. He's assisted by a small group of capably enacted characters (lackeys, boarders, bureaucrats) in bringing Gregor to his sad end. Lana Dieterich and Harvey Guion, as Mom and Pop, provide an effective good cop/bad cop combo that drives their son further into his misery, and even his championing sister Grete (played by Monika Bustamante, who does an especially fine job when her character is freaking out) eventually abandons Gregor to his fate.
The fate of the audience is much less bleak but not quite reason for cheering. There's something about the production's over-various windows, the abrupt exhibits of characters and projections and set pieces (even the boldly ingenious ones, like the vertical presentation of Gregor trapped in his bed) that diffuse the tragedy's focus. As with the compound eyes of insects, the number of facets seems to affect the resolving power. The story here was already seen perfectly through other windows: the author's human eyes; capturing its creepy power and tone onstage may be as difficult as capturing the rare Megolaponera foetens. Still, it's a valiant attempt, and possible required viewing for any Kafka aficionado.