Your play is called Metamorphosis, From Kafka. What exactly does that mean and how much real difference is there between your text and the original?
My adaptation is actually called The Metamorphosis; A Play. We called the show The Metamorphosis from Kafka in order to distinguish it from Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses which is actually from Ovid. They are, of course, quite different plays. Kafka's tale is very focused, very condensed and very early 20th century. Ovid's stories are drawn from classical mythology and involve several different legends with different lessons.
But aside from identifying the source, The Metamorphosis from Kafka actually captures a deeper truth about my interpretation of the novella. The recent Kafka exhibition at the Jewish Museum shows how much his work was autobiographical. This can also be seen in his Diaries 1910 – 1923. Many of the choices that I made in adapting the novella were made with this in mind. Franz Kafka was a wildly ambitious, deeply sensitive and passionate individual who despised his job filled with endless filing cabinets and numbing paperwork. He desperately wanted to be a successful writer. At a personal level, the Diaries tell us that he had trouble sleeping and experienced very vivid dreams. Also that he had trouble at times in awakening from his dreams. I have used the device of Gregor awakening into a dream, which gives us a window into the dreamer and is something that can be represented well on the stage. The Stage Manager in the play summons the audience to experience it as Gregor does. The story has certain common hallmarks of a nightmare, e.g. the inability of the dreamer to communicate with other figures in the nightmare and the inability to affect the action in any way desirable to the dreamer. Dreams can be considered metaphors and, perhaps, one reason that a dreamer cannot alter them during sleep, is that it would alter the meaning the dreamer is trying to depict to himself. I have chosen to represent Gregor (Kafka) via the dual means of an actor who conveys Gregor's feelings through mime and a fiddler who conveys the internal feelings that consume him.
The family is represented conventionally and as Kafka saw them. One can see in the diaries that they are modeled after members of his own family. His feelings about his Father were elaborated in his famous long "Letter to his Father". His Father comes across very much as the competent worker and provider for his family but lacking in any awareness of his son’s soul or support for his ambitions. Kafka put copies of his books on his Father’s bedside table but his Father never read them. His Mother was more patient but similarly obtuse. For example, in an entry in December 1911 Kafka writes: "Today at breakfast I spoke with my Mother by chance about children and marriage, only a few words, but for the first time saw clearly how untrue and childish is the conception of me that my mother builds up for herself. She considers me a healthy young man who suffers a little from the notion that he is ill. The notion will disappear by itself with time; marriage, of course, and having children would put an end to it best of all. Then my interest in literature would also be reduced to the degree that is perhaps necessary for an educated man. A matter-of-fact, undisturbed interest in my profession or in the factory or in whatever may come to hand will appear. Hence there is not the slightest, not the trace of a reason for permanent despair about my future. There is occasion for temporary despair, which is not very deep…" Compare that to Mrs. Samsa in the play: "I think the best idea would be to try to keep the room as it was before, so that when Gregor comes back to us once again he will find things unchanged and can forget all the more easily what has happened in the meantime." Grete I think is more of an amalgam of sisters and perhaps other girls Kafka had known.
Why did you decide to do this play and what did you hope to accomplish by it?
Many readers who have read the play, have commented on the apparent absence of Gregor in the script because he has no spoken lines, as though, somehow, spoken lines only a play make. Of course that is absurd as anyone who has seen Contact can attest. A playwright should be judged not on how clever his dialogue is, but on what his writing makes possible on the stage. By having the character of Gregor represented by a mime accompanied by a musician who can capture the wild swings in his feelings, the part has been left open to the individual artist’s imagination, the creativity of the Director and the Actor. Unleashing such talent is the gift of good playwriting and I do not find it surprising that all of the reviewers who have written about the show have loved the performance of Kevin Whittinghill even if they have been critical of my adaptation, etc.
The play is done in verse. Why did you choose this form and what do you think this adds to the piece?
The play is written in a peculiar verse form called a "Cinquain". A Cinquain is a five-line structure of increasing number of syllables returning in the fifth line to that of the first (2-4-6-8-2). I have modified that form since not all speeches can precisely fit that sequence and probably would be boring if they did. The advantage of using it is that it approximates, or is suggestive of, German and middle European speech patterns that I have heard. Recently I was listening to a Saturday matinee Metropolitan opera broadcast of a German opera and I could pick up a very similar cadence.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and education that sparked your interest in Kafka and enable you to write this?
I first became interested in adapting Kafka's novella after completing a play about the life of German artist Käthe Kollwitz. An important part of the Kollwitz play dealt with the Nazi holocaust. After World War I, Germany failed to metamorphose into a responsible democratic republic as people had hoped, instead transforming itself into a horrible and horrifying regime. Symbolically, a culture changed itself into a hideous bug. I wondered if Kafka had any answers. I have come to see that Kafka’s story is really more personal than political or cultural however.
The play has just been extended, so the audiences have enjoyed it and spread the word. What have you heard from people who have seen the play and is this what you expected?
Personal comments from people one knows are, of course, uniformly very kind. But the reviews have been interesting and seem to vary by gender. Women reviewers have been very sympathetic and understanding of the piece. But male reviewers have been very critical to caustic, with a few exceptions. I think in some ways it threatens men and that has made me think more about why that is. My guess is that it touches on a very sensitive area of Father/son relationships which are perhaps more comfortably handled by Mothers and daughters. The novella and play are cautionary tales and one of the things that Kafka seems to be saying is: Father don’t treat my differences as horrible and make me have to hide them or I shall end up unable to be myself, function, or even live. He wanted his Father to hear that message but his Father never read his books and Kafka was unable to give him his letter. Kafka, however, also was unable to recognize the cautionary message in the tale/dream for himself: that to survive he did need to say it to his Father.
Do you have plans to do this play in other venues?
At the moment there are no other plans or venues. I do feel that its message is important and such reflection is needed in our busy lives where so little time is permitted for this activity.
In your opinion what does Metamorphosis say about our time and why do you feel it has become a classic?
Kafka suffered and struggled with being different and it is what I think attracts us to his writing. He knew what it meant to be an outsider in so many ways. We all experience that in one way or another and he provides both the comfort of someone who has been there and understands as well as some cautionary words that are worth listening to.