“Metamorphosis is a story on two levels,” Gísli Örn Garðarsson, the play’s co-director and star, wrote to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the performance was staged. “Although it is very dramatic and frightening, it is also surprisingly comic.” Last night’s U.S. debut of an Icelandic production of Metamorphosis certainly had the Czech master’s grimly comic mark, and is not to be missed before it exits the stage this Sunday.
Among other things, the clever set design reflected this tension, playing with an XYZ plane that challenged gravity to the points of laughter and awe. A house on two levels, the space occupied by the famous Gregor Samsa (played by Garðarsson) allows the otherwise business-as-usual man to embrace his spidery locomotion, suspended over the family’s classically normal living room.
Within the space, the actors channeled Kafka’s variously angst-riddled characters in stride, evolving with a fluidity that gracefully ushered in explosive conflict. Perspectives intermingled to create a re-wallpapering of the audience’s experience, reflecting the centuries of tumultuous Central European history that seem still-present in Prague.
Directors Garðarsson and David Farr united Kafka’s less sentimental Metamorphosis with their vision. Gregor’s bug-eyed perspective contrasts with those of his previously affectionate family. Ingvar E. Sigurdsson’s performance as Hermann Samsa recalls Kafka’s rocky relationship with his own father.
Sound design featured prominently as well, courtesy Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Indeed, Kafka is hot this year. Philip Glass has announced that he is composing an opera based on The Trial, and a London stand-up comic is adapting the same novel on stage next month. This month also saw the publication of Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books from Nextbook Press, which reveals surprising parallels between the two tragically abbreviated and spiritual lives of Kafka and Hasidic storyteller Rabbi Nachman.
This Off-Broadway production of Spiderman is Central European suffering plus Björk, housed in the fitting mishmash of architecture of the Harvey Theater.
Metamorphosis is running at BAM’s Harvey Theater through Sunday. It is part of the 2010 Next Wave Festival.
Margarita Korol is a pop artist and designer in New York City.