By: Darryl Reilly

“You’ve earned a seat at the table; it is the best table there is, and you have the best seat…” So, declares a chipper female voice heard through a headset connected to an MP3 player during the engaging and absorbing immersive performance piece-style production, METAMORPHOSIS. This is an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s classic novella written in 1912, The Metamorphosis. It is presented by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble at an intimate Lower East Side gallery space. For 75 minutes, the plastic visor-wearing audience of 20 is involved with filling out a questionnaire, team building tangents, breathing exercises, a treasure hunt for hidden play money, receiving an apple to eat, and other interactive activities, all while pondering the timeless significance of Kafka’s entrancing tale. The conceit is that we are at the omnipotent KafkaTech’s corporate retreat where soulless satirical doublespeak abounds, “The bug inside you is not your fault.”

Co-creators Leo Lion and Clara Francesca have crafted a smart treatment which is simultaneously lighthearted and chilling, all while being faithful to Kaka’s vision, that it is dynamically presented. Mr. Lion and Ms. Francesca also brightly perform as Jim and Molly, two white-clad personable and eerie facilitators presiding over the active gathering; their concept is realized through high caliber stagecraft including shadowy and intense lighting. Production designers Maximilian Romanov and Buffy Cardoza, in collaboration with designers Samantha Hafey and Sofe Cote, have beautifully decorated the performance space with paintings and objects referred to in The Metamorphosis. These quaint items aesthetically contrast with the sterile white futuristic environment. Sound designer Nate Edmondson and sound engineer Denise Barbarita’s efforts render the evocative music, effects and recorded spoken word portions, with jolting results.

Projection designer Claire Talbott’s artistry in integral to the production’s success. Through jarring modern imagery, Ms. Talbott’s creates witty, stark and poignant animated sequences which are projected onto the centerstage wall, those are accompanied by a soothing female voiceover; these elements all depict the novella’s plot. Gregor Samsa is a disaffected overworked traveling salesman who is the sole financial support of his indolent parents and his younger sister with artistic aspirations.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect” wrote Kafka. Gregor now spends his time brooding in his room while coping with his new physical state. Unable to work, his relatives take in boarders and find jobs to support themselves. The boarders are horrified by the sight of Gregor and flee. He hears his sister state that she and her parents would be better off without him, and so Gregor starves himself to death. “Then his head sank to the floor of its own accord and from his nostrils came the last faint flicker of his breath.” His remains are carted off by a cleaning woman for the trash.

METAMORPHOSIS playfully, yet thoughtfully captures The Metamorphosis’ core, while creatively evoking Kafka’s perpetual theme of the individual battered by an oppressive craven society. At the end of this resonant theatrical experience some audience members may think to themselves, “Gregor Samsa is me.”

What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm’s time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?

METAMORPHOSIS (through May 12, 2024)
Phoenix Theatre Ensemble
KafkaTech at Studio Exhibit, 62 Orchard Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission


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