From Sister to Murderer & Other Tales of Love (Adapting Kafka’s Metamorphosis)

Today, let us discuss The Metamorphosis.

Mine!

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Doesn’t he look excited?!

So this ties in to my work on adaptations.

To give a brief idea:

I think adaptations are usually terrible.

I have an old article kicking around somewhere:

Adapting Dracula (Why Epistolary is a Four Letter Word) (Boucher 2015).

In it, I outline a lot of my concerns when it comes to adaptations.

Namely:

  • The story works in whatever medium it originates (unless you are in a living medium like theatre, in which case you might be screwed)
  • The story may work (better) in another medium
  • Changes to the story are necessary to make it work in the new medium (books to film)
  • “faithful adaptation” is a meaningless phrase

I had a wonderful discussion with Bailey Boudreau, Artistic Director of Slipstream Theatre Initiative about adaptations the other day.

It boiled down to figuring out what made the theatre, at the time, immediate/important, what was the author attempting to do at the time of writing and attempt to do that in the time in which we currently live.

Now, I believe this has some thorny problems:

  1. You cannot argue objectively about history and therefore anything that occurred surrounding a theatrical piece has to be considered correlative, not causative
  2. And it is almost impossible to determine  what the author intended
  3. Therefore, any and all choices are still based in our own personal artistry.

I wrote an article consumed with the problem of author’s intent:

It boils down to:

  • The author intended something while writing
  • The art stands separate from the author (if it is good)
  • The art cannot stand separate from the audience’s interpretation
  • Therefore, what is our interpretation?

At the time I was working on Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which, unfortunately, never materialized.

Maybe a work for a later time.

But, I was later approached by Slipstream Theatre Initiative to help assist to direct, write, and produce their Penny Dreadfuls.

We had some brainstorming meetings and I threw in my hat hoping to direct and ended up writing for it instead.

I had no idea what I was doing, but was excited for the project.

The Penny Dreadfuls

In years past, the Penny Dreadfuls had been adapted from older sources (like much of Slipstream’s season).

Last year they had a carnivale feel where the production company (in the scenario) was performing in order to lure everyone into the back room so they could unleash a monster upon them. Much like Pippin!

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This year, the talk was more of madness, transformation, and subtler things.

Immediately Metamorphosis jumped out at me, but I couldn’t say why.

It was always something that I wanted to work on, so I suggested it.

Luna, the lovely director said that she was excited and off we were to the races.

The Process

I feel I should be pretty explicit here:

I had no idea what I was doing.

I felt really awful for everyone around me. Much of my life I feel like I am bouncing off of walls people already told me were there. So there is that.

Anywho, a few weeks out from opening, I had neither solidified a script, nor cast, nor rehearsal, nor tech, nor anything. I was pretty boned. So I settled down to read the text.

The reading.

Anyone read Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis? 

If no, here is a really great Blog featuring synopsis and one of the best comic summaries EVER:

In it, Gregor awakes one morning to discover himself transformed into a giant vermin. That’s pretty much it. He wakes up and he is relatively okay with it.  His family kills him.

A lot of metaphors happen here about isolation, depression, anxiety, and dehumanization, but really that is it. He feels like a bug or some sort of monster and everyone treats him like one. His family still feeds him sure, but they are no longer sure it is him.

Eventually, through neglect and downright abuse, Gregor lies down one day and dies, leaving his family a little bit wealthier and a little bit happier.

The Realization

That is it! I really did not feel comfortable with it.

To be honest, I get really uneasy every time that I read the text.

I couldn’t say why when I was in high school, but something profoundly disturbs me about the family’s response to Gregor. He seems like such a nice bug. He loves and cares for his family. Why can they not recognize him? Why can they not see him for the the caring creature that he is?

And that is when it hit me:

The story is not Gregor’s…

The moment that I hit that realization I knew I had something.

Tadashi Suzuki writes beautifully in his The Way of Acting and other collected texts that in order to do justice to a production he tries to:

Tell the story from the most compelling perspective

OR: to put it another way:

Ask the question, “From whose perspective should this story be told?” 

He did this very famously in his Women of Troy, a play about the women mourning the sacking of Troy and the horror that they endure after its fall.

Now, remember the Trojan War lasted for ten years…

For ten years these women had already witnessed war literally at their gates.

Now, it was inside, running rampant and destroying their homes, their families….their babies.

Tadashi Suzuki, a masterful director, set the Trojan Women in the mouths of Japanese women in Japan…after the Holocaust.

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Those women needed to tell this story in this way at this time.

I was so moved when I read what he did.

I cried.

On a New York City subway, I cried while reading a theatre book.

I was the crazy person that day.

(The photo isn’t from his acclaimed work, but it gets the sensation and it was directed by him La Dame aux Camelias)

So that question has stuck with me for years now.

  • “Whose story is it?”
  • “From whose perspective should this story be told?”

I had a clue from the final paragraph of the translation:

All the time, Grete was becoming livelier. With all the worry they had been having of late her cheeks had become pale, but, while they were talking, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa were struck, almost simultaneously, with the thought of how their daughter was blossoming into a well built and beautiful young lady. They became quieter. Just from each other’s glance and almost without knowing it they agreed that it would soon be time to find a good man for her. And, as if in confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions, as soon as they reached their destination Grete was the first to get up and stretch out her young body  (Kafka).

*shivers*

The argument could be made that it is the parents’ who are the aggressors in Gregor’s torment and the objectification of Grete at the end.

I think the case could be made and I know I certainly made it in high school.

However, upon further reflection, the setup between the two siblings could not be clearer in Kafka’s prose:

  1. Gregor: the lowly, virulent vermin, crawling across the floor, sticking to walls, hanging from the ceiling, feasting on refuse, collecting no income, sitting idle, or otherwise playing and becoming an unnecessary burden for the entire family
  2. Grete: the exact opposite, young, vibrant, musical, industrious, hard-working, jovial, and pleasant to see.

So that was the basis of my thought.

We have the one (did you know that the original title Die Verwandlung translates more literally to “transformation) transformation into beauty and the other into beast.

However, what to do with it now that I had my cornerstone.

The Concept

Considering the story from Grete’s perspective opened up a whole new avenue of ideas.

Of course she told Kafka’s Metamorphosis. She had spent the better part of a year, isolated in her own home, chained to caring for a beast that had almost certainly devoured her brother.

No wonder she had insisted on calling it “Gregor”. No wonder she wrote the whole story making “Gregor” as kind-hearted and well-meaning as humanly possible.

He is the closest thing we have to an existential saint.

It’s all a lie.

Grete told a lie to save her brother’s memory and very selfishly explain away the last year of her life.

With those ideas in mind, I started crafting a piece that was in that vein.

The Script

So the script was designed with Grete as the protagonist.

She would be the lens through which the audience would grasp the narrative.

She needed an adversary, Gregor would do.

Her parents proved too irresistible not to write into the narrative.

But, where/when would I set the action?

Dramatis Personae

GRETE: A youthful, vibrant young woman. She has been kept like a china doll by her mother, her father, and her brother. She is strong and curved like a violin.

GREGOR: He is dead. An enormous and virulent vermin. He begins transformed. There is no way to know what he was before.

FATHER: He is dead. A man lost and losing more of himself each and every day, but with a core of iron somewhere under his flabby exterior.

MOTHER: She is dead. There is not much to say of her. She loves her children. She is sad when they are gone.

The answer occurred to me after I wrote the character introductions: after the event.

Gregor is already dead.

So are her parents.

Everyone is dead save Grete, but the story still carries on.

It provided too many interesting things to play with.

  • Who was telling the story?
  • Only Grete?
  • How?
  • Who would play with her?
  • How would she get them to play?

All sorts of possibilities.

And we explored a few of them during rehearsal.

The production was really remarkable, but I have no artifacts to present here.

Only my words.

However, I was fortunate enough to be able to present my rough draft as a workshop performance last week at Young Fenix Fellowship.

I plan to host more, but the central question was:

Does the play work as a standalone piece and should it be expanded?

Overall, audience response was largely positive. I think there was some serious confusion based on the reading of the stage directions. I write lengthy stage directions that are meant to help more than they hinder. I don’t think I always succeed.

Take a look:

Excerpt from After the Transformation by Miles Boucher

There are hundreds of newspapers. All carefully arranged. They are in piles, in stacks by date and time and organized by geography. There is a system to this. It is a very complex, but comprehensive system to the person who made it, but to no one else. 

The newspapers wait. 


Enter Grete


She leaves


Enter Grete


She leaves


Enter Grete


She feels it. That was it.


She paces out the room. She takes its measure. This takes time. 


It is an (un)satisfactory room (depending on the day).  She works with it. She places herself in the ideal spot. She places the audience in the ideal spot. This takes time. 


She lays herself down for bed. This takes time. Perhaps she starts with a newspaper. Perhaps she doesn’t. She makes for herself a pillow, a bed, a sheet, etc.


When everything is perfect she begins:

GRETE: One morning,

She pauses to fix a corner.

One morning, when Gregor…

Did it move? No? Again.

One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.

Vermin.

Vermin.

Vermin.

Vermin.

That was it.

Moving Forward

I think that I would like to rewrite it, cutting much of the superfluous stage directions while keeping the bare bones and see what is left.

Afterwards, there are at least a few moments that were and are definitely rushed as far as action goes.

Some of the scenes where Gregor kills his parents are really solid and tight, but I think there are moments to explore between the siblings.

How do you communicate with a wild animal and how long does it take?

Stuff like that.

So that is about where I am at with the piece. I am excited to keep workshopping it and continue to present it at YFF and elsewhere.

Anyway, that is my critique of my own work and an explanation of what I have been doing with my fall.

I hope you all enjoyed it!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Bibliography

Kafka, Franz. “Metamorphosis.” Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg, 13 May 2002. Web. 3 Dec. 2016.

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