Astonishing, Acrobatic Adaptation of “Metamorphosis”

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Gisli Orn Gardarsson Photo Credit: Eddi

Gisli Orn Gardarsson
Photo Credit: Eddi

Presented by ArtsEmerson with Vesturport Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

Based on the novella by Franz Kafka
Adapted and directed by Gisli Örn Gardarsson and David Farr
Featuring Music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

The Paramount Center Mainstage
559 Washington St.
Boston, MA
ArtsEmerson Facebook Page

Review by Gillian Daniels

This production of Metamorphosis is imbued with a frantic energy. This is partially due to Gísli Örn Gardarsson, one of the directors and the main character of this adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel. Utilizing acrobatic skill and a set with plenty of footholds, Gardarsson plays Gregor Samsa.

Gregor’s family suffers after his transformation into a giant insect. In horror, they watch him crawl across the stage, aping a monster even though his human soul remains intact. Combining dark humor and a set split beautifully into two stages, this version of Metamorphosis is probably one of the most visually entrancing plays in Boston right now.

The mood of Metamorphosis jumps from horror to broad comedy. Gregor endures psychological and physical torture while his family, particularly his sister Greta (Selma Björndóttir), fall over themselves to keep up appearances. His father (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) and mother (Edda Arnjótóttir) are too wrapped up in embarrassment to address the absurd nature of the crisis at hand. They all worry only how Gregor, who leaps, flips, and hangs upside down from the railing, will now be perceived by the outside world. Unable to provide for them, Gregor is useless. With believable self-deprecation, Gardarsson’s character seems to agree with this assessment.

One of the best things about the production is its damning irony. Clad in a suit, Gregor remains human to the audience no matter how skillfully he crawls or climbs throughout his house. We only know he’s a giant, unspeakable creature by the way he’s treated. His family screams at his presence, covers their ears at the sound of his voice, and gags at his smell. It is these characters that make the true transformation, devolving from a warm, caring support system to severe and fearful individuals.

Loud, often obvious comparisons are made between Gregor’s dehumanization and the mentality of pre-World War II Germany. His treatment, however, also brings to mind the way a community may view a man with an illness, mental or physical, that they can’t or refuse to understand. Both interpretations feel valid and grim.

Vesturport Theatre, an Icelandic company, and The Lyric Hammersmith work together to create a production of memorable, sometimes shocking images. Bokur Jönsson’s set design demonstrates Gregor’s incompatibility with his family, tilting his isolated, upstairs room ninety degrees so that the audience gets an aerial view of his bed. The dissonance is given an ethereal mood with gentle music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Metamorphosis is an exquisitely bleak show. Unfortunately, it won’t be in town past this weekend. The images born from the mix of physical acting, impassioned actors, and creative sets, though, linger on long afterward.

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