Bailey Lomax & Kellan Murphy in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Photo courtesy of Walden Theatre
By Steve Moulds
Adapted from Franz Kafka’s classic novel of alienation
Directed by Hallie Dizdarevic
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is described by Steve Moulds here as a “…classic novel of alienation”, a study of humankind losing identity and its own sense of self in the modern age. Moulds exercises subtle judgment and careful license in adapting the story for Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players.
Gregor Samsa, a salesman, awakes one morning to find himself transformed into a creature not at all human: a vermin, typically taken to be an insect. He and his family struggle with this reality in an absurd manner, disturbed but never seeking an explanation. The reaction of those around Gregor is a mix of shock and sympathy, but ultimately he is a pitiable figure, suddenly and inexplicably detached from familial and social relationships and a source of revulsion and disgust.
Clay Marshall’s black and gray set design looks for all the world like a three-dimensional graphic novel, with Gregor’s bedroom furniture placed at a most improbable, vertiginous angle, jutting out from a wall. Our first image of him is squirming on his back in the bed, our viewpoint the same as looking down on an inverted insect on the ground. It is a strikingly expressionistic design reminiscent of the great German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The concept carries through the lights and costuming so that the look is appropriately dour and depressing, as we would expect.
But it is important to remember that Kafka’s story is a comedy, albeit as black as they come. The laughs may not be uproarious, but Mould’s text captures the sardonic and satirical aspects of the story in full measure. A certain degree of tedium is present around the middle, but this seems as much a natural development of the numbing redundancy in Kafka’s society as it does any lack of imagination on the part of the creative team.
Gregor’s experience is articulated in a first-person narration spoken by a chorus troika of Body (Ruthie Dworkin), Mind (Hallie Riddick), and Spirit (Rebecca Willenbrink). Kellan Murphy portrays Gregor himself in an abstract, non-verbal, physical performance of creepy-crawly intensity. The device is effective in both illuminating the character but also somewhat distances the audience’s empathy and identification with Gregor.
His family is played by Kerri Edens as his Mother, Parker Henderson as his Father, and, most importantly, Bailey Lomax as his sister, Greta. All do good work, but Lomax carries more weight as the person who maintains the most meaningful connection with Gregor. A 13-member ensemble occupies the remaining characters and also provides music that they composed and performed offstage. The spare and tensile score embodies the brittle reality of Gregor’s predicament and helps establish the tone of dread horror that the production seems to be shooting for.
Watching Gregor’s story play out, the levels of potential identification resonate: faceless, undervalued member of the workforce, dutiful son taken for granted and seen only as breadwinner by his family. Given that the cast is all students, one cannot help but also see this Metamorphosis as metaphor for adolescence, communicating all the levels of disaffectedness that teenagers struggle with on the path to adulthood. Moulds has tailored his writing to the young Walden/Blue Apple company before, in an adaptation of Six Characters in Search of An Author a couple of seasons back, and there is nothing random about his choices. Whether or not you find Kafka’s existentialism to your liking, this production is another powerful opportunity for this program to show what it is capable of.
January 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 @ 7:30pm
January 23 & 30 @ 2:00pm
Walden Theatre / Blue Apple Players
The Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
1125 Payne Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.