BWW Reviews: METAMORPHOSIS at Fringe

By: May. 04, 2015

Remounting a work originally presented at Woolly Mammoth's rehearsal room earlier this year, the Alliance for New Music-Theatre now brings their original adaptation of METAMORPHOSIS to the new Capital Fringe performance venue. The Trinidad Theatre, located at 1358 Florida Ave NE, is exactly the type of small, hip, black box that DC isn't known for, and it's as good of a host as any for METAMORPHOSIS as the Alliance prepares to take their production to the Prague Fringe Festival later this month.

An iconic novella in the absurdist movement, Franz Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS is the bizarre yet completely relatable tale of hard-working, traveling salesman Gregor Samsa's sudden and unexplainable transformation into a "ungeheuren Ungeziefer", (commonly translated into "enormous cockroach", "dung beetle", "monstrous insect" and other variations of the sort), and how his family struggles to understand and deal with him. One of the the great coups of this adaptation is that presenting the typical single translation of Kafka's opening phrase, it presents a handful, highlighting the true ambiguousness of the creature Gregor turns into.

Taking on the role of Gregor is the versatile Ari Jacobson who is his own three ring circus, singing, climbing and swinging off ladders in an imaginative and highly theatrical take on Gregor's transformative that relies entirely on his performance as opposed to makeup or costumes. Unfortunately, as much of the meat of the play centers on Gregor's family, Jacobson is often relegated to the role of bystander, confined to watching the drama unfold while making some very welcome and entertaining interruptions. The other unique performance in this production is that of the cellist Schuyler Slack who on top of his dramatically wide-ranging musical abilities goes above and beyond in his constant reactions to the play, making himself so much more than an accompanist.

Another highlight in the cast is the multi-hyphenate Lily Kerrigan as Gregor's sister Greta. Showing a knack for physical theater, Kerrigan makes the often absurd gestures and motions required of her seem natural. Some of the most grueling emotional work is required of Pamela Bierly-Jusino and David Millstone as Gregor's mother and father.

Aside from these great performances, however, Alliance's production directed by Artistic Director Susan Galbraith is much like Kafka's novella: inexplicable, lost in translation, and more full of questions than answers. Even the term "music-theatre" is analogous to Kafka's "ungeheuren Ungeziefer", as even after sitting through METAMORPHOSIS Gregor's transformation is as much a mystery as what the Alliance means by "music-theatre" and how it relates to theater and musical theater. There are no fully fledged songs in this adaptation, but there is musical accompaniment that runs the gamut from klezmer-esque underscoring to Mickey Mouse-ing sound effects, as well as fragments of the text that are sung by the performers, which is by far the most confusing element of the production. At times, METAMORPHOSIS stretches so far it risks losing its audience in the process, as when the Samsa family turns into chickens for a memorably confusing moment.

Inventive animations by Janet Antich are projected onto a white screen that serves as a backdrop and provides the majority of the set and props that the actors interact with. The effect is incredibly successful and defines the look and feel of the entire production. Joey Wade's minimal physical set features stools and ladders that give the cast the necessary space to perform the intensely physically production on the very small stage. Lighting design by Brian Allard bring of plenty of light to the otherwise bare of stage, but attempts at blackouts don't quite work in a space that let's in so much light. Neil McFadden's sound design is flawless, providing dialogue for additional characters, sound effects, and the occasional German narration.

While across the board Alliance's level of execution is commendable, it is the overarching concepts that weaken the production. While Kafka's original novella shined in it's simplicity of language and narration, here Galbraith lays on theatrical device on theatrical device, as the heart of the piece becomes distant. In its final, confounding moments, its easy to wonder how much clearer this METAMORPHOSIS could be without all of its complications.

Program runs 90 minutes with no intermission.

Photos provided by the Alliance for New Music-Theatre.

Alliance for New Music-Theatre's METAMORPHOSIS runs through May 17, Wed-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 2:30pm at the Capital Fringe Trinidad Theatre, 1358 Florida Ave NE Washington, DC, with one additional matinee on Saturday, May 16 at 2:30pm. General Admission is $30, or $20 with a valid Student ID. Tickets available online here or by calling 866.811.4111 for assistance.