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Brandeisians tackle Kafka in stunning adaptation of ‘The Metamorphosis’

By Jonah Koslofsky

Section: Arts

October 13, 2017

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” That’s the first line of Franz Kafka’s deeply unsettling 1915 masterpiece novella, “The Metamorphosis.” As the first line and the title elude, the story follows a down-on-his-luck salesman who—somehow—gets transformed into a gigantic insect. It’s a weird premise—and just as weird when it’s performed in the SCC theater 102 years later.

Directed by Sivan Spector ’18 for the Free Plater Theater Cooperative, this adaptation of “The Metamorphosis” gets a lot right, and is bolstered by some fantastic performances. It’s an extremely claustrophobic piece—neither the novel nor the play leave the small house occupied by Gregor Samsa and his family. Gregor (now a disgusting bug), his mother, father and sister Gretta are basically trapped in this house, and that means that actors have to do a ton of work to both convince the audience that Gregor is as disgusting as he’s supposed to be, and make this absurd situation feel real.

The good news is that everyone measures up—Maryam Chishti ’20 shines as Greta, arguably the most sympathetic (human) character. Greta gets the biggest arc in the story, going from caring and put-upon sister to exhausted honesty, and Chishti really sells her evolution. Anderson Stinson III ’21 and Renata Leighton ’21 are both quite good as Gregor’s parents, with Stinson expertly capturing the villainy of Gregor’s father. Finally, Amber Crossman ’21 appears in a dual role, appearing as Gregor’s boss the Chief Clerk and as a tenant. I especially enjoyed the former, with Cossman donning tap shoes to further ratchet up the tension in her scene.

Unsurprisingly, the real star of the show here is Norma Stobbe ’20, who gives a tremendous performance as the bug boy Gregor. Stobbe captures and conveys Gregor’s lameness as a human, and totally sells Gregor’s movements as a bug. At the end of the day, the story needs a compelling Gregor most of all, and Stobbe delivers.

That all being said, one of the problems with “The Metamorphosis” is that it’s a bit too long, and that goes for the book and the play. I think this may be by Kafka’s design, putting the audience into the never ending pain of the Samsa family, as it’s a short story that still feels like it just keeps going. It’s pretty obvious that whatever force turned Gregor into the bug isn’t going to turn him back, which means that the only resolution for the story is Gregor’s death.

However, what kept the novel engaging, at least for me, is the dark comedy Kafka infuses throughout. The absurdity of Gregor’s situation, his family’s response and the picture of modern society Kafka paints is tragic, but it also can be comical. There’s a scene where monstrous Gregor is beat with a broomstick back into his room that I found absolutely hilarious, but it didn’t really seem like that was the director’s point. This adaptation is much more focused on viewing Gregor’s transformation as a placeholder for a disability (which I know because of the director’s note), and the tone of the play does flirt with being comedic at times. My only note is that had this adaptation fully embraced the comedy, it’s hour and 10 minute run time might not have felt quite as long.

That’s a small nitpick in the midst of a large success. With a stellar cast and great ambiance, I think Kafka himself would have approved of this adaptation. “The Metamorphosis” is weird, but in this case, it’s weird done right.

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