By Franz Kafka
Directed by Martin French
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire Contents Copyright © 2013, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Most of us remember Franz Kafka’s surrealist classic Metamorphosis from being forced to read it in school. It certainly is a bizarre story, that of a salesman waking up one morning to discover he’s been turned into a giant insect. Like it or not, once you read the opening sentence, you are compelled to find out more.
It’s not well known as a stage play, however, and that’s where Louisville’s own Alley Theater comes in. As directed by Martin French, the Alley’s current production is a faithful adaptation of the weird tale and is mostly successful at keeping the audience’s attention for its intermission-free, 90-minute runtime.
For the most part it’s very well acted. Harrison Coffman commands the stage as the tortured Gregor Samsa, the tragic protagonist. He seems a bit young for the role but conveys the emotions of the character nicely and gives easily the best performance in the piece. Taking a cue from the stage version of The Elephant Man, he performs the deformed character without the aid of makeup. While I think I would prefer to have seen more suggestions of the insect in his physicality, he made some bold choices that I think worked well in the context of this production.
There is also some nice work done by Madeleine Dee as Gregor’s devoted and devastated sister Greta; she is never less than believable as the character goes from heartbroken to heartless as her sympathy for Gregor’s plight erodes. And kudos to Alphaeus Green Jr. for his fearless portrayal of three different characters. He’s all bluster and arrogance as Gregor’s employer and the family’s lodger, and brings some welcome (if misplaced) comic relief in the drag role of the family maid.
I didn’t quite get the director’s choice of casting a high school girl and a middle school boy as Gregor’s parents. Cassie Emert and Edward Streeter look to have promising acting careers ahead of them, but casting such young actors in these roles completely takes you out of the story. According to the director’s notes, this was a conscious choice to make a statement about youth vs. age; but with the rest of the cast also being so young, the point is lost. At times I felt like I was watching a school production.
Unfortunately the production also gives in to one of my pet peeves. There are signs that an effort was made to pad the running time; the pacing was often very slow and at times literally nothing was happening for minutes at a time. (A sequence with Greta cleaning Gregor’s room, for example, without any dialogue and with nothing else happening, seemed to go on forever.) Really, if you have a short script, present a short play. Dragging it out unnecessarily can really test an audience’s patience.
But even with the above shortcomings, the play holds your interest all the way to its sad conclusion. Watching the family’s reaction to Gregor’s plight move from initial horror, to sympathy and compassion, then to bitter resentfulness as the nightmare goes on is tough going and may make us think a bit too much about where we are all headed when old age or infirmity makes us a burden to our family.
Overall it is a good production benefiting from a strong cast and intriguing source material. If you can forgive some pacing issues and open your mind to its themes, you may find yourself caught up in the story. It will certainly make you think differently, which I’m sure is what Kafka intended all along.
Featuring Harrison Coffman, Madeleine Dee, Cassie Emert, Alphaeus Green Jr. and Edward Streeter.
September 12-28, 2013
All shows at 7:30 pm
Industry Night: $12 tickets - Monday, September 16
The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40202