When Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis” was published back in 1915, the author requested that an image of the main character not be printed on the cover of the book. He believed that doing so would spoil the story for the readers.
It is a shame that Eric Pettigrew was not alive at the time, because his image would have been an appropriate one. Playing the central role in the Black Moon Theatre Company’s production of the The Metamorphosis, Pettigrew visualizes the character entirely.
The plot of the story is simple and absurd. Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning having turned into a giant bug and his family is unsure of how to cope with his transformation.
Wearing a skintight costume of a leotard painted in reptilian patterns, his face covered in makeup, Pettigrew does not speak a single word throughout the show but manages to carry the entire performance. Writhing underneath a sheet, attempting to speak and finding himself incapable, he puts forth a powerful performance as a man transformed. His agony and confusion is evident as he attempts to understand what has happened to him.
Like The Trial, this adaptation of Kafka is a multimedia one, utilizing voiceovers and videos to enhance the production. With the exception of his sister, Grete, Gregor’s family is viewed only through video, shot as if it is from the perspective of Gregor as an insect.
There is no lack of effort in this production, by the actors or the people behind the cameras. The performances are almost painfully earnest, whether on stage or on screen. Gregor’s parents (Celeste Hastings and Frank Schneider) and the boarders that stay at their home (Jeb Berrier, Barret Ogden and Britt Whitton) are never seen live – only on film. Pettigrew as Gregor and Natia Dune as his sister are the only speaking (or almost speaking) actors, and Juliette Morel performs a dance solo that is lovely but somewhat confusing. It can be interpreted so many ways in the show that it holds little to no meaning.
Pettigrew has a great weight to carry, and he succeeds in almost every way. The confusion, frustration and anguish that he is capable of communicating to the audience is frankly, quite remarkable.
The Metamorphosis is a story welcome to interpretation. It has been studied and analyzed scholastically countless times throughout the years. It has been attributed to Kafka’s own family and his famously strained relationship with his father, as well as symbolism of racism and prejudice and as familial and economic rebellion. Gregor, the son, is immobilized from rebelling against his family, who he had been the sole provider for. He is unable to continue working at the job that he does not like, and for a boss that he despises. By transforming into an insect, he is able to escape these obligations. However, he loses a great deal in the process, including, eventually, his life.
The meaning of The Metamorphosis is subject to interpretation. The story is simple, but loaded with subtext. And this performance enhances the story greatly.
The Metamorphosis runs through October 28, 2006 at the Teatro La Tea at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center.