TU Theatre’s metaphor in “Metamorphosis”

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By: Annie Moreno, Contributing Writer
Photo by Alysha Payne

The Towson University Department of Theatre Arts presents a production of “Metamorphosis”, a play based on the novel by Franz Kafka, in the Studio Theatre of the Center for the Arts Building on Nov. 3 to Dec. 9.

This unique play portrays the ideas of Jewish atheist writer, Kafka, about the alienation of people who are unaccepted. “Metamorphosis” was adapted by playwright Steven Berkoff in 1969 and is being directed by Towson theatre professor, Tavia La Follette.

Follette chose this play because she wanted something more abstract, and is a fan of Kafka.

“Realism is not really my forte,” Follette said. “I also wanted to do something that taps into and parallels our current political landscape.”

According to the program, the play deals with the concept of “otherness,” which is a term that means humans who are confined to “dark corners” because they do not fit the norm.

This concept is communicated throughout the play by creating a human “Metamorphosis” out of the character Gregor, played by sophomore acting major Daniel Rosen, who slowly evolves into a giant, repulsive bug. He is then shunned and feared by all, even those who have loved him all his life.

“The bug is a metaphor for ‘the other,’” Follette said. “The mechanical moment of the ‘other’ character is representative of their role in the fascist machine, individual cogs that keep it in motion.”

The show begins with images of internment camps and all different languages being spoken. This is because Kafka, his identity and his ideas placed him as an outsider in his own life, according to Follette.

“He and his family grew up Jewish [in Austria-Hungary] at the turn of the last century, where political landscape put the whole family in a realm of ‘otherness,’” Follette said. “He had no place to call home… but perhaps with artists, in an underworld-type atmosphere.”

Rosen said that society always has an outsider like his character, Gregor, so there are other people who know his pain.

“That’s why the book is so relevant to people nowadays — because everyone has moments in their lives where they feel like ‘the other,’” Rosen said. 

“Metamorphosis” is a very movement heavy play that requires a good amount of difficult physicalization on the part of the actors, and some very percussive sound design by senior speech-language pathology and deaf studies major Joseph Nicol, since many lines and blocking are spoken and moved in rhythm. The set, lighting and shadows combined to enforce the concept.

The sound design involved instruments such as kombucha bottles, spoons, vases, buckets, temple blocks, güiros, a rain stick, sleigh bells, a vibraslap, and a kalimba that created plunky melodic sounds for dramatic effect during the softer moments.

“The most interesting instrument we used, by far, was the set itself,” Nicol said. “Since it was made of metal, I had the ensemble members tap, scratch, bang, smack and rub their skin on it to make all kinds of unique, disturbing sounds.”

Senior family and human services major Becca Altschul, who plays Mrs. Samsa, said that the hardest part was finding these rhythms in the music and making the abstract concrete.

“This show is really up to interpretation, and seeing everyone’s thoughts on the story and each character really shaped it, made it what it is,” Altschul said.

The characters really came to life in this show, and it was clear as to when they were suffering, sad, guilty, excited, and at many times terrified.

“My interpretation of Gregor stems mainly from his perception that he is the ‘other,’ or outsider, of society and I feel like that at least sometimes in my life,” Rosen said. “He appears good-natured and fairly likeable, which are just some traits I admire.”

Sophomore acting major Aaron Schaffer says the most essential moment of the play is the scene where everything stops, and Gregor says, “I can hear you. I can hear every word you say. I know you don’t think I can understand you, but I can hear your every move and every moan,” which is the gist of Gregor’s monologue in this scene.

“I really feel like that monologue is essential to show the different status of the characters, and that his family has some type of hierarchy over him,” Schaffer said.

Altschul says that her favorite moment in the show is when father goes to work, and Grete and Mrs. Samsa try to clean the room.

“You finally see some true emotion from both women, and there’s a bit of suspense to it too,” Altschul said.

The bugs and lodgers were difficult characters to play physically, but these actors brought a sense of fun into this show that is so dark.

“As a bug, I was very afraid at first, but as the process went on I adjusted. I played off of other characters and bugs in the show, especially Gregor, who is the lead that turns into a bug in the show,” Schaffer said.

“Metamorphosis” has a very dark theme, yet is still able to hold a comedic effect through the magic of theatre and good acting. When the Chief Clerk, played by junior acting major Griffin DeLisle, first sees the giant human bug, he runs out of the theatre screaming in a hysterical panic. The three lodgers, played by Rose Hahn, Liam Watkins and Schaffer, were also sources of comedy and highlighted by audience members for their impact on the show.

“I knew I was going to enjoy the show to some capacity going into it, but I was not expecting to be captivated as much as I was; I really really enjoyed the piece,” senior theatre studies major Ana Johns said. “I thought that the lodgers were a great change of pace and atmosphere, while still fitting into the absurdity of everything. But visually, I really enjoyed when Gregor’s true form was revealed as the very large bug in the corner.”

The bug was a strong visual addition to the show that was made completely out of the actors themselves. It was extremely creepy and terrifying, especially with the red lighting as a dramatic touch.

“I am definitely most proud of the students,” Follette said. “They put in an incredible amount of emotional, mental and physical work into this show. As an ensemble driven director, I place the environment, but it is up to the actors to ferment these concepts. This play could not have come to fruition without the genius and brave flexibility of each actor’s own experiences and ideas.”

The most tedious part of the process was the syncing of the movement with the sound and the word scape of the show, because there was a lot of tiny refining all the time, according to Follette.

This is why the sound design was such an important element of the production.

“I most definitely enjoyed working with Tavia on this project, because she’s such a visionary director — her method is to, for the most part, just let the play be created organically by the actors, which heightens their level of commitment and really makes things like music and sound happen naturally,” sound designer Nicol said.

“I am honored to work with such a strong production and design team. They really put the frosting on the cake and make us all look good,” Follette said. “I also can’t say how happy I am to have had the opportunity to work with students Joe Nicol, sound composition, and Max Gorman, choreography,… and of course the entire cast and crew. This is a fantastic place to make art. I am filled with gratitude.”

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