The Strange Story of Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis, a production based on Franz Kafka’s novella, was performed at the Parco Theater in Tokyo and made available with English subtitles through Digital Theatre Plus.

Written by Willa Wu

The adaptation of this production, Steven Berkoff’s, retells the story of a travelling salesman who is somehow transformed into an insect.  Throughout this play, he follows a uniformed style and design and utilizes the actors and actresses in unique and extensive ways.

Gregor Samsa, during his transformation to an insect.

Having never read Kaftka’s novella prior to watching this production, my reaction during most of the play was that it was strange.  The storyline begins with Gregor Samsa giving an extremely direct exposition, explaining exactly who he is, who each of the other actors are, and their situation.  I quite enjoyed this style of storytelling, as I commonly find myself trying to piece together the knowledge during the story rather than already knowing the backstory.  

The element of design within this production was phenomenal.  Berkoff used a very easy to understand minimalistic set of props to progress the story, and the actors were able to use their body language to help the audience understand the implications of the prop placements. Like Cabaret, the actor’s consistent use of props helped me understand the story more easily.  The entire set only consisted of a framed structure and three chairs placed evenly apart across the stage.  In addition, the minimalist structure extended to encompass the number of actors. There were four main actors (Gregor, Greta, and the parents), and the Chief who came around in select scenes.  I appreciated this style, as I felt as if it was more storytelling, which in some cases can be more entertaining to watch.  

A shot of Gregor Samsa during a monologue.

The use of shadows was also important within this play.  With small tweaks in lighting, the actors themselves can look like shadows or the actors can create large shadows behind them.  This can be used to have the actor appear either extremely large or extremely small in comparison to some other object or another actor.  The actors all wore monochromatic clothing, and hence, with the shadows they create, make the entire play fit in further with the minimalistic look.  The only deviation from such is when there is an angry scene, and a red light would cast upon the entire stage.

It was imperative that this production was to be watched online, as it was recorded in Japanese.  However, if I were to somehow be able to watch this in person, it would look less dynamic to me. This is because as a live audience member, you are subjected only to a wide angle view of the entire stage the entire run time.  However, in the style that this production was recorded, there were rotating camera angles that were used and also close ups of the actors. By doing so, it creates a more dynamic flow to the production as angles are always changing.  In my opinion, the experience of watching it online feels more like a movie rather than a play.

The final bows of the performers.

My favorite design element is the use of the clock noises to tell time.  In this play, unlike many other performances we have seen this semester, the actors do not only depend on themselves to create sound.  It was most noticeable when Gregor’s every step once he became an insect was followed by a sound mimicking the sound of an insect. The precision that is required of the actors is incredible and impressive.

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