“Metamorphosis,” Kafka’s ambiguous allegory about a man whose abrupt transformation into non-human form horrifies all around him, has frequently been dramatized for various media. The most successful version in recent years was U.K. director David Farr and Icelandic actor-helmer Gisli Orn Gardarsson’s 2005 stage adaptation, which made a splash in London and subsequently toured the world. While considerably scaled down in physical terms, Mark Jackson’s Aurora mounting — this text’s first professional U.S. production — preserves the collaborators’ brisk, cogent and involving take on a classic tale, adding a few fillips of his own.
When Gregor (Alexander Crowther) wakes up one morning inexplicably turned into a giant “vermin” (Kafka deliberately left his precise form unclear, though it’s generally given that it’s some sort of insect), his immediate concern is not for himself but the traveling-salesman job he’s never been late for, and the family that depends on (or perhaps freeloads off) its income. Once his state is discovered, he’s locked in his attic bedroom, shunned by a terrified Mother (Madeline H.D. Brown) and angry Father (Allen McKelvey).
Only sister Grete (Megan Trout) retains some familial affection and concern. Yet, as everyone is forced to get jobs of their own and her adult life begins to take shape, Grete eventually becomes the strongest advocate for “getting rid of” this embarrassing burden. To the end, Gregor (whose contorted voice can be understood by no one but the audience) tries to accommodate, finally making the ultimate sacrifice so their banal dreams of bourgeoise upward mobility might be realized.
Written in 1915, Kafka’s story can be interpreted in myriad ways. The adaptors eventually hint at their own strong underlying agenda: Once Grete’s department store coworker and potential suitor Mr. Fischer (a hilariously officious Patrick
Jones) shows up, dialogue suggests this “Metamorphosis” is a metaphor for the fascist conformity of Nazism. Jackson resists that to an extent; his staging is dressed to evoke 1950s America, with characters cracking under stress like an ideal 1950s TV sitcom family straining to maintain their perfect Pepsodent smiles while staring horror in the face. (They sometimes even move and speak in unison.)
While the script’s prior productions utilized sometimes spectacular, acrobatic effects, the Aurora’s small space necessitates something simpler; here, Gregor slides down the steeply raked floor of his room or climbs its walls like monkey bars, occasionally crawling downstairs on all fours. Crowther’s touchingly hapless protag weighs like a lingering guilt over a short evening otherwise largely played for satire and macabre humor.