Turbulent Mirror Productions

at the Project

What impresses me most about Kafka’s Metamorphosis is its resistance to interpretation–it remains beguilingly aloof. One can’t say for certain what Kafka meant by turning Gregor Samsa into a huge bug overnight; he may have meant many things on many levels. But in addition to the endless intellectual journeys that this text inspires, Kafka holds me captive by the sheer strength of his story telling.

Werner Krieglstein, whose adaptation of Metamorphosis is currently running at the Project, fundamentally fails to tell Kafka’s story–or any story, for that matter. His play–set in Gregor’s bedroom, behind a huge white scrim and illuminated by black light–takes several episodes from Kafka’s tale and runs them one after another. But there is little attention to connecting these episodes. I finished reading the story an hour before going to the theater, and I was still lost. Without a comprehensible narrative, this play simply doesn’t make sense.

The strident percussive score that accompanies the text (the entire play is told through Krieglstein’s offstage voice-over) renders much of it unintelligible. When Krieglstein’s words are audible, he seems to read them on one level, delivering every line in sharp, abrasive phrases. Every detail–significant or not–carries an ominous, threatening weight. When Gregor’s parents take on lodgers to make some extra money, since Gregor is no longer able to work, Krieglstein hisses to us, “They ate their food in complete silence!” This fact has little to do with anything, while Krieglstein seems to have missed the way Gregor’s parents humiliate themselves to please the arrogant, abusive lodgers. That’s where the drama lies.

This production continually misses the mark. There is no continuity to the story, and no consistency to the way it’s been theatricalized. For the first three-quarters of the show we watch everything through the white scrim; we see Gregor (Mark Krieglstein) only as two sets of glowing pincerlike feet, a white stripe on the crown of his head, and two glowing orange eyes. This black-light presentation seems a workable solution to the problem of turning an actor into an insect–except that for much of the time he’s barely visible. Then, inexplicably, the scrim comes down and the stage is lit in white light, and Gregor’s father (Werner Krieglstein) frantically covers everything onstage with black cloth. Not only is this sudden reversal, from concealment to revelation, unmotivated by the drama, but illuminating the stage in such bright light reveals how sloppily constructed the set is–better to have left it in the dark.

No one is credited with directing this play, and a lack of direction is apparent. For the first 15 minutes, Gregor simply flails about the room while his parents and boss stand outside, asking him why he doesn’t come out. This not only is tedious for the audience but works against Kafka’s story: Gregor is trapped in his new insect body and can hardly make the cumbersome, multilegged thing work. Kafka spends much time detailing the enormous difficulty Gregor finds in simply turning around. To have Gregor dance about the stage completely undercuts the scene’s reality.

Most disappointing of all, this production saps Metamorphosis of both its humor and its pathos. Kafka’s story is populated with beautifully touching moments. Gregor’s sister, trying to figure out what he wants to eat, lays out in his room “some raisins and almonds; a piece of cheese that Gregor would have called uneatable two days ago; a dry roll of bread, a buttered roll, and a roll both buttered and salted.” This moment is simply plowed over onstage, as are most others. This sterile evening lacks the human emotions that render the story truly tragic.

Turbulent Mirror Productions is made up entirely of members of Werner Krieglstein’s immediate family, which makes the lack of genuine emotions all the more troubling. Werner Krieglstein seems to have simply relegated everyone to subordinate positions in his grand spectacle. As a result, the piece comes across as arrogant. This, coupled with a theater so hot that nuclear fusion seemed imminent, made for quite an unpleasant evening.