Unnur Ösp Stefánsdóttir and Björn Thors turn things upside down.
METAMORPHOSIS by Franz Kafka, adapted by David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson (Mirvish). At the Royal Alex Theatre (260 King West). Runs to March 9. $25-$99. See listings. Rating: NNN
Gregor Samsa's family doesn't want him to bug them.
That's hard, since he awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a gigantic insect.
Franz Kafka's 1915 novella, adapted by directors David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson, is an allegory about the other, how such a person is rejected and drummed out of conventional society, which prefers things to stay comfortably just as they are.
The strength of this touring show begins with Börkur Jónsson's design, which gives an intentionally skewed view of Gregor's bedroom, a floor above his family's staid drawing room. We see into it as if from above, the bed, chair and other furniture actually attached to the wall. In other words, the audience's view is the same as Gregor's as he rests on the ceiling.
The intensely gymnastic performance of Björn Thors as Gregor, who spends his time crawling along the walls and ceiling, gives us an even better sense of that viewpoint. His eyes bulging, squatting with legs and arms flung akimbo, Thors physically captures Gregor's hapless descent into solitude.
Using the bannister on the staircase as a perch, Gregor eats stale cheese in preference to other food. He's further isolated from the others by his speaking voice, which sounds normal to the audience but is unintelligible and causes physical pain to those around him.
Increasing the tale's horror is the process by which his family's (Unnur Ösp Stefánsdóttir, Tom Mannion and Edda Arnljótsdóttir) and various other characters' (all played by Víkingur Kristjánsson) revulsion is eventually internalized by Gregor.
It's too bad that the production asks everyone but Stefánsdóttir, who plays Gregor's sister, Greta, to enact broad, heavy-handed caricatures who speak in a largely declamatory and tiresome fashion. Greta begins sympathetically but has a change of heart and becomes brutal, a turn made believable by the actor.
The design surprises us again at the end, when Jónsson shows us an ironic image of beauty that contrasts with the starkness of Gregor's fate.