It’s Everyone’s Favorite Bug: Gregor!
My wife asked me where I was seeing The Metamorphosis. I told her it was on the East Side. She said that it seemed like an appropriate place for someone to turn into a bug. Everybody knows about Gregor: the man who turned into a giant bug. It’s easy to hold Kafka’s classic tale at a distance. Accept the story of a man turning into a giant bug as a novelty and it becomes weirdly-cool. It’s highbrow horror that falls victim to the same problems plaguing all horror. Accept the concept on a superficial level and you don’t have to engage with it on a deeper level at all. It’s a horror show. A monster story. Nothing more.
No Chitin, No Carapace, No Problem
Conceived of and directed by Isabelle Kralj, Theatre Gigante’s approach to the classic story engages it on a psychological level that avoids the whole superficiality problem altogether. There’s no exotic make-up or creature costuming effects. It’s all just people. Ben Yela is the internal psyche of Gregor through monologue. Edwin Olvera plays the physicality of it. We see it all play out in movement that feels very real and visceral. Emotional reactions stand-in for the horrific-fantastic. Kralj delivers it to the stage in a way that feels very emotionally real.
The Small of Apples. The Slosh of Milk
What the show lacks in antennae and mandibles it more than makes up for in smashed apples and spilled milk on a shiny, black surface. Olvera casually nibbles on pieces of apple that had been thrown against the grown by Ron Scot Fry. At one point Yela sinks his head into a giant metal bowl to go bobbing for milk-soaked bread. There’s an audible reaction of revulsion from someone in the audience. Yeah...becoming a bug isn’t pretty. Neither is watching someone become a bug. It’s pretty messy onstage by the end of the show.
It’s Not Just the Insects: We’re All Creepy
On some level, we’re all becoming bugs in a human world. It happens over time. Some call it getting older. There’s an injury. There’s a condition. There’s a physical tic of some sort that surfaces. Humanity gets itched-away one scratch at a time. Telling the story of The Metamorphosis without any external representation of the horror allows this to settle-in on around the edges of normal human performance. Olvera plays the most obvious monster here with Yela as his psyche, but every member of the cast plays a creepiness: sister, mother and father. Selena Milewski is creepy-cute, Hannah Klapperish-Mueller is creepy-caring and Ron Scot Fry is creepy-creepy. There’s real humanity in every performance onstage, but people forced to live with a giant bug all kind of become buggy-insectoid in their own way. There’s sudden snaps of reaction and a weird uniformity in an eerie unison that sometimes resonates through them. Eyes cast across the stage and into the rest of the audience and we all feel a bit like a swarm of twitchy, creeping attendees watching one of our own.
But Really It’s Just About A Guy Who Can’t Go To Work Anymore
(Damn: This Is Going to Get Political Before I’m Finished With It.)
Stripped of the superficial horror, it’s difficult not to see the human element of the story as a reflection of current issues with healthcare funding. Gregor’s a middle-class guy with a serious medical condition. If he could only make it out of the house for some treatment he would, but he really has to make it out of the house for work and there’s no way he’d be able to pay for the time off. He’s supporting his entire family as a traveling salesman. He’s a regular middle-class guy who travels a lot. He’s probably got frequent flyer miles and a string of hotel rooms and convention centers in his past. He’s got rent to pay for his whole family and his sister to put through a conservatory program so she can become a great concert violinist...no time or PTO to stop and casually become a bug for a few days or forever. Can’t allow yourself the luxury of that. There are bills to pay.
All the concerns of a middle class guy are a lot of pressure to begin with. Add to all of it this medical condition...and the fact that he’s not able to save for retirement or whatever. It all becomes kind of a reflection of everything that we’re going to have to deal with as the Baby Boomers continue to age and collect all those little tics and scratches that are turning us ALL into large invalid insects once incident at a time. There are Republicans who have stated that there’s no inalienable right to health care. It’s a privilege. But if you’re not an entomologist then you’re an exterminator. Either you want to help Gregor or you want to get rid of him. You can’t just shove him into a room and hope that he gets better. (Unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing in which case...y’know...don’t be surprised when you see compound eyes and a pair of antennae in the mirror the next time you look. Time turns us ALL into insects just like Gregor.)
Theatre Gigante’s production of The Metamorphosis runs through Jan. 28th at the Kenilworth 508 Theatre. A concise review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express. Gigante’s next production is Rok Vilčnik’s stage adaptation of Tarzan Mar. 16-24 in Kenilworth 508. For more information, visit theatregigante.org