Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a Frank Theatre Production at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Metamorphosis - Publicity photo by Tony Nelson

“Delightful” and “fun” aren’t the first two words that come to mind when one seeks to describe the literary legacy left by Franz Kafka.  But Frank Theatre’s narratively-faithful rendering of  the Bohemian writer’s 1915 novella The Metamorphosis — which opened Friday at Open Eye Figure Theater is a snappy, impeccably-acted, funny, yet human telling of this well-known tale of alienation. The original script was developed by Frank Artistic Director Wendy Knox (who also directs the production) and the company actors.

Most western literature students are familiar with at least the opening line of The Metamorphosis: “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.” When that’s where you’re starting out, you know it’s not going to be a good day. (And it’s downhill from there.)

The plot of Frank’s Metamorphosis proceeds as does Kafka’s novella, and the play runs about as long 90 minutes as does a sit down reading of the book. Five actors perform all roles and provide the collective voice of the narrator. As with Kafka’s admired original, there are no moments that even resemble a lull. (There’s no intermission, and you don’t need one.)  I was practically on the edge of my seat as things went from bad to worse in the Samsa household – my companion describing the early action like one big anxiety attack until Gregor’s eventual demise opens up a new (potentially brighter?) chapter of life for his family, a family whose dreams had all but stalled due to their complacent dependence on his income as a travelling salesman.

All performances meet if not exceed the high standard I’ve come to expect from Frank Theater, though the role of Gregor (played by John Catron) should be singled out. Despite no especially vermin-like makeup or costuming, Catron manages to exude insect-like qualities while still retaining unquestionable humanity. Also outstanding is Christopher Kehoe as the office manager who shows up at the Samsa household to inquire about why Gregor hasn’t shown up to work. Kehoe is also top notch in additional roles including all three gentlemen lodgers (which he performs simultaneously with the help of two puppets), and the charwoman. Tessa Flynn is delightful as Gregor’s naïve, but well-meaning sister Grete, and Maria Asp and Patrick Bailey solidly anchor the remainder of the cast as Samsa’s initially timid but ultimately stoic mother and father.

The relatively small Open Eye is perfectly suited to this production and brings an intimacy which would not be possible in a larger theater. Set designer John Bueche makes efficient and effective use of the small space, the entire production playing out on a set with Gregor’s bedroom in the rear and the family’s living and dining quarters in front.

Michael Croswell’s music and sound effects are also noteworthy, at times almost becoming a sixth actor in the production. The incidental music makes one appropriately uneasy, and key effects like the slamming and locking of Gregor’s bedroom door each time it’s opened and shut and the downright disgusting chomping and sawing sounds that accompany the other characters’ eating all contribute to a Kafkaesque (I had to slip that in somewhere) experience that when all is said and done makes for a wonderful evening of entertainment I can recommend without equivocation.

Metamorphosis runs through May 1st.

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