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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

'Metamorphosis' was cool theater at Nordic cool

Gisli Orn Gardarsson became a flying insect in Metamorphosis at the Kennedy Center/Vesturport
Metamorphosis has come and gone after playing for just three nights as part of the Nordic Cool 2013 arts celebration now underway at the Kennedy Center, and it was some of the best theater I have seen in years.

A friend said he found Kafka depressing, but my purpose in attending was to enjoy drama and the artistry of the production, and that’s what I got, and a lot more.

If you've read the "novella," you must wonder how a producer would go about metamorphosing a man, a family's primary breadwinner, into an insect, but Gisli Orn Gardarsson, who plays the insect/man, and David Farr, both adapters and directors, had no problems bringing it all together.

The set for the play is a portion of a family’s house on two levels:  the sitting room downstairs and the bedroom of "Gregor" (Gardarsson) upstairs whose mother, father, and sister don’t take too well to the changed physical and mental state of their relative. They grow increasingly weary of putting up with the pest, and their tolerance of him who grows more different from them day by day diminishes.  Only the fittest shall survive.

In Metamorphosis only the fittest survive/Vesturport
Except for the mother (Edda Arnljotsdottir) who frequently shouted to project her voice, the performers performed their characters with aplomb, but it was Gardarsson who, of course, stole the show.  His metamorphosis into insect was so captivating that lack of bug costume and fur, 1,000 legs, and wings to soar over the house went unnoticed while watching.

Over time, his bedroom, which the audience views from a ceiling perch, becomes a cage where Gregor explores in his creepy, crawly way, sometimes on an invisible trapeze as he leaps from wall to wall.  Always crouched on boomerang appendages, he hangs from the ceiling, and jumps upon tables which become landing pads.
The insect's bedroom metamorphed into a cage/Vesturport

When his sister Greta (Selma Bjornsdottir) comes to beat him in one memorable scene, the lights go out and Gregor's domicile immediately changes into a black and white torture chamber, illuminated by one big bright light shining on the room from the back and exposing prison bars behind the wrestling silhouettes while Greta strikes her brother repeatedly. It is a painful scene but hardly worse than Gregor's parents' behavior toward their only son: Get rid of him, and let's move on. Gregor's father (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) pelts him with fruit.

The show included a ballet of sorts by Ms. Arnljotsdottir who often pirouetted from one side of the stage to the other in gentle solos, rolling across the dining room table at one point, just like Gregor, except the mother was a tad more jubilant, not racing to escape her captors, and uplifted subconsciously perhaps, by the knowledge the upstairs occupant was dying and would soon cease to be a bother.

The lighting (Bjorn Helgason) conveyed in the gloomy but homey set (until Gregor's room is metamorphed) and the music (Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) (think: Hitchcock on ice) were spectacular. (Alas, unseen musicians and the volume made it seem taped.) Split-second cues for sounds and buzzers were never missed.
Presenting the play were Vesturport Theatre of Iceland and Lyric Hammersmith of the U.K., companies which pride themselves on producing exceptional experimental theater which has earned them several prizes.  Gisli Orn Gardarsson is one of the founders of Vesturport, and David Farr, a screenwriter and director, is associated with Lyric Hammersmith.500856_Turner Classic Movies
This Metamorphosis, staged around the world, was presented at the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, the smaller theater size which makes reception more enjoyable, however, do avoid Row Y in Orchestra since the leg room is about a third less than that found in other rows, and we just a little better off than insects crammed in a cage.

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