Nearly every generation and geographical region interprets the plight of the outsider in its own way. The end result is a literary canon of outliers and misfits, counting in their ranks Holden Caulfield, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Ralph Ellison’s unnamed narrator, and–perhaps most notably–Gregor Samsa, the traveling salesman who woke one morning in his family home to discover that he was no longer himself.
The Alliance for New Music Theatre brings Kafka’s most memorable character to the stage beginning this week in a music-theatre rendering of Metamorphosis. Building from Steven Berkoff’s 1969 stage adaptation of the story, director–and the company’s artistic director–Susan Galbraith approached the work from a desire to explore its relevance to modern audiences.
The story, which shows Gregor’s deepening alienation from his family, society, and ultimately himself, has been associated with Kafka’s own experience of otherness. “Kafka was a German-speaking Jew in a Czech Christian city,” Galbraith explains. “I take the theme of the outsider’s outsider very seriously.”
In certain ways, this staging of Metamorphosis has itself taken on the role of outsider. Employing speech, song, animated projections, and stylized movement, this Metamorphosis isn’t a traditional stage adaptation. At times, it summons the original Kafka text and speaks in German. At times it moves like a clock. At times unmanned silhouettes scurry along the background. And at times it sighs like a cello. Galbraith explains that too often, people perceive Kafka’s work as dark, heavy, and unrelenting. Here, instead, it’s made approachable and familiar–without sacrificing any of the work’s themes.
“I hope to make people consider what he still has to offer,” Galbraith says.
The play’s arthropod protagonist is granted the same ambiguity in this production as in Kafka’s text–which is to say, don’t expect a dude in an iridescent exoskeleton and some extra legs. Once he turns bug, Gregor’s transformation becomes visible through his movement and physicality–as well as his relationship to his family.
“I was intrigued by the notion of using both storytelling and stylized movements to represent the bug, to really capture its physicality,” explains Galbraith. Thus performer Ari Jacobson can be seen in a series of positions that range from acrobatic to folded in on himself and curled up like, well, an insect.
The other performers–David Millstone (Father), Pamela Bierly Jusino (Mother), and Lily Kerrigan (Sister Greta)–contribute heavily to the movement-theatre aspects of the production as well, fusing movements both realistic and abstract. The overall effect feels somehow in line with the Czech surrealists, especially when backed with Dvorak-inspired melodies from a lone cellist (Yvonne Caruthers).
September 10 – 24, 2014
Alliance for New Music-Theatre at
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St NW
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The production takes another offbeat turn in its use of animated projections–depicting a majority of props and even certain characters through highly stylized illustrations modeled after Kafka’s own sketches (included in the set and projections design by Joey Wade). Galbraith describes the style appearing to her first in a dream, then materializing on the walls of Kafka’s home during a recent visit to Prague. The animation designer, Janet Antich, brought life to that style, capturing hours of rehearsal footage to align the movement of the props and interaction of the animated characters with the natural movements of the three-dimensional performers onstage.
If it is unlike most plays you’ll see in Washington, it is deliberately so. Galbraith suggests that the reason this story has endured for so many years has to do with the universality of its message. “Kafka speaks to the notion of never truly being at home, and the dangers of that.” Likewise, the Alliance for New Music Theatre’s production of Metamorphosis refuses to fit tidily into any of thestre’s conventional headings–and is all the more memorable for it.
The Alliance for New Music Theatre is a collaborative organization comprised of composers, librettists, directors and musical directors, choreographers, designers, and other members of the arts community. This production of Metamorphosis follows on the heels of 2013’s partnership with the Czech Embassy, The Vaclav Havel Project.
As is the case with all productions from the Alliance for New Music Theatre, performances of Metamorphosis will be followed by a conversation about the work, led by Susan Galbraith.