“Metamorphosis” reinvents Kafka’s classic and throws down both comedy and horror

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Simone Anne Lang/Staff

Mark Jackson takes the universal theme of alienation to a new level with his latest production, “Metamorphosis”. Adapted for the stage from Franz Kafka’s notable short story, Aurora Theatre Company’s representation of one man’s troubled transformation is both delightful yet twisted. The jokes are aplenty and the cruelties run amok, delivering a performance that sheds new light on a timeless fable.

The worldwide fame of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” works in the play’s favor. Its simple yet intriguing storyline resonates with the audience — a man wakes up one morning, only to find that he has morphed into an insect. Staying true to the concept, Jackson’s “Metamorphosis” is equally minimalist, devoid of fuss and frills. There are no set changes, as the entire course of the 75-minute performance takes place in two rooms, strategically furnished like a childhood diorama. The small, five-person cast is slapped with individual color schemes and sticks with them throughout their subtle costume alterations. Together, these factors coalesce, building up the production’s eerie ambiance.

The plot is set in a nondescript household that plays up all the stereotypes associated with old-fashioned suburbia, a characteristic that becomes glaringly apparent within the first few minutes. Uplifting melodies soar as mother and daughter move in synchronized motions, a pair of beaming, blond robots dressed in pastel as they eagerly dote on the father, head of the patriarchal family. Mother (Madeline H.D. Brown) and Grete (Megan Trout) prepare the dining table, offer cheek-kisses to Father (Allen McKelvey) and continue with their duties until Grete stumbles across a pair of shoes, casually left behind. The lights dim, the music heightens and it’s clear that something has shifted, though the slippers’ significance is hopelessly lost on the audience.

Gregor (Alexander Crowther), son and breadmaker of the Samsa family, has left his shoes behind. Which means that he is still at home. Which means that he isn’t at work. Which is a problem.

His family, ever so devoted to Gregor’s money-making ways, try their best to coerce him out of hiding. But when they do, they almost wish they hadn’t as they discover that Gregor has turned from an obedient son to a grotesque creepy-crawly. Horror solidifies into alienation as the Samsa clan opt for Gregor’s imprisonment, locking him in his room and viewing him as a legitimate insect rather than a son.

With a plot that may be renowned but is somewhat lacking in excitement, this particular adaptation surprises in its ingenious stage setup. Gregor’s bedroom is slanted at a sharp angle — bed, dresser and all. The limber Crowther was a delight to watch as he climbed over bars and squeezed around the crooked stairs.

The well-worn storyline is additionally improved upon by the production’s skilled actors who possess uncanny self-identifications with their characters, resulting in doses of drama that were delivered with a sincere touch. Though Brown and McKelvey easily pull of their roles as the hysterical housewife and the gruff authority figure, respectively, it is Trout who slowly becomes the star of the show. Grete is torn between her sibling bond with Gregor and her desire for independence, epitomized at crucial moment she is forced to choose between feeding her brother or pursuing a romantic relationship with a pompous suitor (Patrick Jones). Trout carefully engineers her role with stiff, puppet-like motions and a nervousness that becomes endearing.

Kafka throws around his fair share of loaded themes in his novella — Greed, isolation, prejudice, insert-coming-of-age-issue here. But Aurora Theatre’s production takes these rather depressing topics and transforms them into an easily accessible story that’s part-charming and part-horrifying but ultimately thought-provoking.

Cynthia Kang is the arts editor.