Tuesday, February 4, 2014


It's always exciting to walk through the foyer of the Alex and hand your ticket over to one of those gracious, elegant gentlemen at the front of the interior doors to the lobby in their tuxedos and long black coats.  Every aspect of entering the theatre suggests you are about to be part of something special.

I was not disappointed last week.

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

So begins Franz Kafka's surreal novel, written in 1915, at the beginning of the First World War.

In this brilliant production, Gregor's awful transformation heightens rather than diminishes his humanity.  Damaged, confused, afraid and scarily vulnerable, he becomes an everyman of scorned frailty and repellant otherness.

As Gregor, the astonishing Bjorn Thors spends most of the performance literally climbing the walls of the bedroom that becomes his prison.

His room is presented from the start from a skewed perspective: the floor of the room is the back wall.  The downstairs of the house is a typical proscenium box set.  The aesthetic dissonance mirrors the difference between Gregor's experience of reality as a bewildered and suffering human and others' experience of him as a despised freak.

One by one, his own family:  father, (Tom Mannion) mother, (Edda Arnljotsdottir) and sister, (Unnar Osp Stefansdottir) turn on him.  Gregor becomes their curse: a source of extra work, a drain on their limited resources, an object of  escalating disgust, shame and embarrassment.  Their precarious middle class aspirations teeter on keeping his existence a dirty secret. Their escalating revulsion and viciousness towards their son, brother and former breadwinner is both utterly horrifying and completely believable.

Gregor's sanctuary, his room, becomes his cell and then his coffin, all at the hands of the people he loves. How does this happen?

I thought about Phoenix Sinclair and Jeffery Baldwin, Canadian children who were starved and beaten to death in Canada under the watchful eye of social service agencies while in the care and custody of their own families. No one noticed or intervened. What happens to Gregor happens to someone, somewhere, at home or in care, every single day.

Five actors, one set and a stylized, intelligent and physically rigorous production does more in 90 uninterrupted minutes to examine and illuminate human cruelty visited upon the vulnerable in a domestic enclave than any coroner's inquest.

The European cast performing in English is uniformly fine, with Thor giving the stand-out performance.  The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis enhances the production without ever intruding.

The much-admired production of an excellent adaptation of Franz Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS is certain to become one of the most talked about productions of this Toronto theatre season. David Farr of the RSC and Gisli Orn Gardarsson from Iceland's Ventursport Theatre have achieved that rare feat of making dynamic and engaging theatre out of a challenging work of literature. They are faithful to the absurdity and black humour of the book without abandoning its heart.

 Go: and bug someone to come with you. You'll have a lot talk about after the show.