Of Metaphors and Transformations

You enter a darkened theatre, grope your way towards your seat, speak in hushed tones, and contemplate the spartan set of simple scaffolding and 3 stools before the curtain rising of spotlight on the stage and cosmic embryonic sounds commence to draw you into the agony of a family whose comfort zone of ritual living is profoundly disturbed when one morning Gregor Samsa, son and provider to the Samsa household, wakes up to find himself transformed overnight into an uncanny loathsome insect.

The drama in Kafka’s original tale evolves layer by layer towards change, rather like in life: Gregor’s own initial insistence that life is still the same – he has to somehow get up and go to work; then his family’s confusion, soon followed by outright horror at his condition; then rejection, salvaged only by the young sister’s adolescent non­judgment; then a creeping, annoying acceptance of the stalemate, accompanied by a reversal of dependant­ provider geography of the family; eventually neglect of the burdensome creature, when even the sister as she blooms into more self-willed maturity, tires of caring for a no-return situation; and finally the desperate despondency and lack of will that destroys the creature and the family is set free to seek new beginnings.

In all of this, 4 classic stereotypes of human nature emerge: the nurturing, agonizing mother, the wretched bullying provider father, the spontaneous if confused youthful sibling, and the privately struggling burdensome human creature of affliction. Then there is the little outing with the boarder – an insight into how human nature seeks diversion, distraction in adversity.

In Jacob’s production, some of Kafka comes through, but the play’s abstract nature does obscure meaning. Bekoff wrote the play so that ‘it should engage the senses on all levels totally, as the senses are engaged in life, but with each discipline supporting the other – total theatre, total life, sound, movement, light, text, music.”

Jacob has done quite well with his set and actor ensemble. They do perform in union and in that wretchedly interactive way that members of families in deep adversity do affect each other. Then he manages also to maintain an uneven pace that keeps the audience from nodding off. The jigs around Greta Samsa’s wonderfully effective imaginary violin playing were particularly successfully as positive energizing movement against the overall agony and gloom in the play.

The drawback of Jacob’s production, however, is the emotive decibel level of the drama. In fact, the strengths and weaknesses of cast performances depended on how well each managed, or not, to project the depth and intensity of emotion without shouting, so to speak.

Spike Selva as Mr. Samsa worked in an awkward wretched rough-cut ‘Indian father’ kind of way. Lim Soon Heng, as the chief clerk/lodger provided inadvertent comic relief. Sabera Shaik as Mrs. Samsa did deliver some effective mothering moments of expression. Mary George as Greta Samsa was surely the scene stealer – she stood out as being totally in character as the now compassionate, now bothered, now terrified, then bored, then again confused, and finally self-seeking sister to the creature brother. George’s portrayal worked because she maintained the buoyancy of her character as she evolved layer by layer, metamorphosizing to the tune of the purport of the play.

Ramli Ibrahim as George Samsa was indeed as agile as insect in his metamorphosized form. But he used his voice too much and his dance talent too little. His body contortions were already communicating his agony – he need not have strained his voice so. As a result, he tended to over-emote. A more passive face and a more varied voice tone may have connected him with the audience better. The whining was annoying after a while, I kept wishing that he would transit his disjointed creature moves towards more stylised adapted dance manoeuvres to create a more personal vehicle for himself which could have resulted in some poetic theatre perhaps. But no one else could have ‘hung from the ceiling’ and still manage to say his lines unexhausted.

Still, it is not every day that we are visited by Kafka and a metaphor of a mental state that is very much a part of life today in Kuala Lumpur as in Prague of the 1800s. Indeed ‘sickness, disfiguring, chronic illness or disability’ (words of Christopher Jacobs), can make creatures of us all in any home, any country, any time. And to pronounce Metamorphosis as being merely a part of the ‘life sucks’ school of thought, is not to have understood if fully. As much as Metamorphosis is about the wretchedness of living, it is also about transitions, layers of change and new beginnings. The last line heard on the stage is ‘the lilies will be in bloom’.


First Published: 05.02.2002 on Kakiseni

Related items

For Translation

The 8th Annual BOH Cameronian Arts Awards — Results!

dance Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize…

The 7th Annual BOH Cameronian Arts Awards — Results!

dance Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize of RM1,000 Prize…