AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Franz Kafka
Adapted by David Farr & Gísli Örn Gardarsson
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Mark Jackson
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Thanks to Aurora Theatre Company, American audiences are getting their first professional theatrical experience with Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis." No doubt many viewers have read Kafka's now-classic 1915 novellla about a young man who wakes up one morning and finds that he has become a bug. Now they can see the 2006 stage adaptation by British director David Farr and Icelandic actor-director Gísli Örn Gardarsson. The two moved the action up from 1915 to shortly before World War II in Europe. ATC director Mark Jackson has advanced the time and place to the 1950s in the United States.

Therefore, the Samsa family at first would seem to represent the kind of family enshrined in TV shows of the time. Perky Mother (Madeline H.D. Brown), her blonde hair neatly coiffed, wears a dress with crinolines (costumes by Christine Cook) while getting ready to serve breakfast to similarly-attired daughter Grete (Megan Trout) and husband, Father (Allen McKelvey). All three wear fake-looking smiles, but they're dismayed when they discover that Gregor (Alexander Crowther), the son and other family member, hasn't left for work. Instead he's still in his locked room.

It doesn't take long to discover that Gregor has been transformed into a giant insect that terrifies them. His efforts to talk to them come across as horrible sounds, but the audience can understand him. The rest of the story focuses on how the family reacts and adapts to him, with the initial efforts led by Grete.

Set designer Nina Ball works some theatrical magic in ATC's three-quarter round stage by putting Gregor's second-floor bedroom on a raised, angled upstage space with rung-like stairs that serve as the platform for his bed and other furniture. It's reached by a stairway leading to his door. On the main floor of the stage is the living-dining area.

Crowther as Gregor creates some theatrical magic of his own, for there's no effort to change his appearance from a handsome young man. Except for the green glow in his room (lighting by Clyde Sheets), he appears ugly and insect-like only to the other characters, whose reactions then convince the audience of the reality of what they see. Crowther also is impressive in his ability to make his way up and down the floor of his room and even to swing from the metal bars suspended above it.

For the most part, Jackson's direction is highly stylized for Gregor's family and two visitors, both played by Patrick Jones, as they often hold poses. His direction often has them speaking too loud for Aurora's intimate space -- an effect sometimes magnified by Matthew Stines' sound design. Furthermore, Brown's Mother tends toward hysteria.

The plot seems to have several focuses. One is the treatment endured by people perceived to be different. Fischer (Jones), Grete's co-worker who's interested in rooming in the family's home, ultimately reminds one of the way the Nazis regarded Jews. A line by Mother -- something to the effect of wondering what she did to cause Gregor's change -- is reminiscent of how a parent might react upon learning that his or her child is gay. In addition, one might be reminded of the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

Another theme that emerges is the indifference that the family members eventually have toward the unfortunate Gregor, who begins to suffer from their neglect. On the flip side, family members are forced to contribute to their financial well-being rather than relying on Gregor's salary to sustain them. As a result, their actions seem more genuine, as if they're becoming a real family rather than the plastic one seen at first.

In short, this overall solid, one-act production packs much food for thought into its 75 minutes.

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