Metamorphosis Does Kafka by Way of Iceland

Julie Taymor might have saved a lot of people a lot of money had she swung through Iceland any time recently. That’s where Gísli Örn Gardarsson Gisli and the wily Vesturport Theatre (along with London’s Lyric Hammersmith) made wall walking and other critter-like feats look … not easy, exactly, but bracingly real in their eye-catching 2006 adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, currently on display at BAM.

Borkur Jonsson’s ingenious set includes a conventional sitting room, but Gregor Samsa’s upstairs bedroom has been toppled forward 90 degrees: Picture the usual fourth-wall convention, only here you’re looking through the ceiling rather than a side wall. Using nothing more than strategically placed footholds and a few fixed pieces of furniture, Gardarsson—who also co-directed and co-adapted with David Farr—scuttles around with skill and the appropriate amount of reticence. (Hey, this cockroach thing is new to him.)

The family’s comedic interludes feel a bit forced, as does an update to 1930s Europe, complete with talk of “clearing vermin from our society.” But nearly is all forgiven by the time Gardarsson and Farr contrast Gregor’s literally inhuman fate with that of the remaining Samsa brood. The stagecraft, effective as it is (and augmented by a score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis), is always subordinate to Kafka’s narrative—a lesson unto itself. ERIC GRODE

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