Metamorphosis – Kafka gets a new spin that offers more. (Theatre Review)


Clock and Spiel Productions

7 to 16 February, Chippen Street Theatre.

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Deng Deng

Of the thousands and thousands of words written on and about Franz Kafka in the almost one hundred years since he died, until recently almost all of them had been written by men. Without recognizing that few women had sought to interpret or analyse his work, he has been declared elusive, particularly because of Metamorphosis, because no single interpretation finally delivers the stories connotation. Not until the 1980’s did anyone imagine female scholarship might supply something missing. For this lover of Metamorphosis (And Kafka) it is a feminist scholarly reading[1] and the interpretation of Amanda Stephens Lee in her superb rendering of Metamorphosis as a play, that has called forth what has been laying there all along. Working with a strong cast, Amanda Stephens Lee offers the idea that it is not Gregor’s (Sam Glissan) metamorphosis that is key to the narrative, but Grete’s (Madeline Miller) that opens up the most powerful interpretation of the text. Through the performance of Madeline Miller as Grete, the audience are treated to a different flavor of Metamorphosis that provides impossible to miss modern interpretations that challenge earlier theories, while maintaining the ambiguity of Kafka that frees a woman from being set in stone by his words.

We all know the Marxist/Engels interpretation based on the power exchange: Active becomes passive around the language of exchange and conversion. This seems relevant to Kafka’s transmuting analogy because of the movement from subject to object and the power struggle with Father (Yannick Lawry). Amanda Stephens Lee, however, subsumes the power struggle between Father and Gregor in favour of the idea that it is Grete’s experience that might be crucial to the meaning of Kafka’s tale. In this production of Metamorphosis, it is Grete and Gregor who form the powerhouse relationship. For Amanda Stephens Lee, it is the brother and sisters power exchange, particularly as Grete now cleans up for Gregor as well as makes the family living that becomes the most interesting. Metamorphosis becomes a fantasy gender role exchange and the transformation of Gregor is a ‘trying out’ of some unreal fable or meaning life might have. In this Clock and Spiel production, the deepest resonances involve the relations of men and women, of the man’s whish to be a woman and the woman’s wish to be a man.

This is further enhanced by Corey Potter’s lighting design behind Lucy McCullough’s set of a large muslin curtain that makes shadow puppets of the family as they stand at Gregor’s door. This beautiful lighting gives the director an opportunity to further mystify the relation between the family and Gregor. We see them, but we also don’t see them because of a veil. We watch Grete blossom into her new sense of self, yet we come to see that her strength is only a will to power achieved at the high cost of the annihilation of Gregor, and that neither brother nor sister holds the monopoly on this position, or the position of subservience to said power. The extraordinarily delicate (and tragically written) performance of Sam Glissan reveals Gregor as a character with the shameful desire to identify himself with women and the consciousness that he cannot identify himself with men. For Grete to become who she must, she also must reject the female in Gregor and embrace her masculine self in her connection to Capital. Gregor is reduced to the humiliation of living in the complete care of woman, while Kafka is obviously impressed with women’s abilities to rise up in the absence of a male who can care for them.

Inside this wonderful interpretation then, Amanda Stephens Less suggests (via her writer) that chance is a matter of exchange. There can be no blooming of Grete without the destruction of Gregor. Gregor’s final transformation is, of course, into a piece of garbage that is tossed away. However, we are left with no hope for Grete. She appears to have been transformed into a tool of the capitalist machine and she will carry within her the marketplace value that destroyed her brother and we suspect, will destroy her as well.

There is no point in reproducing classic works unless one has something to say that one suspects has been missing from previous interpretations, or to contribute a talented perspective that might enhance our ability to see, experience and read theater. Metamorphosis is a production that is regularly revived. Amanda Stephens Lee brings something new and interesting to this piece. Her statement in the director’s notes asks “Who are our Gregor’s?” Who are those discarded because they are not “producing” in a Capitalist system? Well might we also ask, what is the difference between our Gregor’s and ourselves and how might we be Gregor’s in the making?

Metamorphosis by Clock and Spiel is a wonderful production confidently directed and beautifully performed. Yannick Lawry is light and cheerful as the villainous father giving a perfect performance shrouded in the “Why?” that his character represents. Hailey McQueen is excellent as the put-upon mother who never quite remembers that the creature is her son. The shocking distance of Gregor’s parents is one of the horrors of Metamorphosis and the pair here give extra weight to the absurdity that virtually leaves Gregor orphaned. Madeline Miller is a particularly strong Grete, embodying new ideas and an obvious independence into her role such that Grete almost convinces us she is in command of that which controls her. Sam Gilissan is a marvelous Gregor, beautifully encouraged in his ‘bug’ movements by Shondelle Pratt (movement director) as he shuffles around in a gorgeous mask designed by Lucy McCullough and built by Luke D’Alessandro. Side characters Julian Lawrence as the smarmy lodger Fischer and Victoria Greiner (who is always a joy to watch) as a calculating Stietl are well directed and bring as much to their important side roles as the leads.

This is an interesting, charming interpretation of Metamorphosis that will satisfy those who do not know the story (if Kafka’s tale can ever be called satisfying) and excite those who may have seen it many times before.


[1] Most of these ideas have come from the excellent paper by Nina Pelican Straus “Transforming Franz Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’” [Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1989, vol. 14, no. 3] ? 1989 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0097-9740/89/1403-0001$01.00