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Kafka's Metamorphosis (World Premiere)

Based on the novel by Franz Kafka Adapted and Directed by Derek Goldman
Synetic Theatre, Rosslyn’s Spectrum Theater
Arlington, Virginia. — Runs through May, 22, 2010

Reviewed by Grace Cavalieri, Special to The Montserrat Review


The plot of Kafka’s novel is followed closely on stage in this disturbing allegory of a writer’s decline, self loathing, physical illness, and eventual demise. Gregor Samsa has a mind-deadening job as a traveling salesman. His true passion is writing but this is never proclaimed on the side of power. He is defeated by his daily job and, worse, is overcome by the bravado of a talent that he believes is not truly expressed. Gregor wakes one morning to find he has been changed into a gigantic cockroach, and the presaged pain he feels has finally manifested him into a huge vermin. The family is repulsed and Gregor’s brooding contempt grows as does the strength of the roach as alter ego. Although he must stay hidden, his sister brings food, his quarters are cleaned, and the improvident family falls further into poverty. The family takes in boarders who see the cockroach and flee in horror, leading to worse domestic crisis and turmoil. Gregor transfers his uncompromising pain and isolation to the creature he nourishes and- although disgusted, kisses its lips in a complicity of what is human and inhuman within us. The 90 minute performance demonstrates the blueprint of a writer’s life as Kafka felt it, with the dedicated element of Nazism and the persecution of Jews. There is a relentless beat of danger outside the room, a rise of fascism within and outside the family, and the dread recognition that there are forces in the world that will reduce a human being by first separation and finally death.

Franz Kafka’s sisters died in a concentration camp, and his own life was marked by mental and physical illnesses. He had slight hopeful encounters with women during his lifetime and this is realized in the play via the ethereal presence of a beautiful woman in white who arrives in song and revisits the scenes as Gregor transforms in agony. Each time she has shed one resplendent garment. The final note is the image of the woman, only in a silk slip, in white always unattainable -- pure and virtuous while sexual and seductive--something better imagined that cannot be owned.

Many of Kafka’s own quotes are interspersed in scenes “Writing is a physical act.” “They can’t understand my words.” “My boat is fragile.” He attempts his own salvation, “The more I write the more I free myself,” but the words cannot sustain him. The emotional blows from the father, his superiors, his society, render him eternally separate from the love of the world – as only a cockroach must be.

Much of the language from the actors is choral speaking. This tends to be more rhetorical than passionate. Denounced to solitude Gregor’s own utterances lack the elasticity of speech given and received in encounter with others Since drama thrives on interaction, the piece would be static without the writhing and physicality of the oversized roach which attempts to sustain some state of being , even shedding its shell in labor to achieve a relevance of humanness.

There is not much to lift the heart in the story or the performance, but there is much to admire, not the least of which is the courage to mount such a work with the balefully haunting sounds and images it offers. The set is, as you can imagine, a distortion of the mind, asymmetrical and spatially oriented from above as if we are looking down upon the events. As usual the Synetic will not be intimidated by the menace of a piece of writing. And, from the nightmare of the worst of us, art always shows - even if the subject is isolation - that we are never alone.

John Milosich (Gregor Samsa); Clark Young (Franz Kafka);plus cast actors Charlotte Akin, Steve Beall, Frank Britton, Caitlin Cassidy, Vince Eisenson, Annie Houston, Catalina Lavalle, Matt MacNelly Stage Movement by Irina Tsikurishvili; Set and Costume Design by Natsu Onoda; Lighting Design by Colin K. Bills; Original Music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze; Sound Design by James Bigbee Garver.

This is the last Synetic production to be housed at The Spectrum. The Theatre moves next to Crystal City. 2009 awarded the Company two Helen Hayes Awards, among other national and international honors. Metamorphosis runs through May 22. www.synetictheater.org. 703. 824.8060


Grace Cavalieri is a playwright and a poet. She produces “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress.” Her latest book is Sounds Like Something I Would Say ©2010.

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