STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON/For Digital First Media
Imagine one night you go to sleep after your work for the day is done and you’ve enjoyed time with loved ones, as usual. But when you wake up the next morning, you’re a giant insect-like creature and your world is turned upside-down as everyone – including you – tries to deal with that.
It’s an absurd premise of the classic Franz Kafka tale, “The Metamorphosis.” It’s also the next offering from Quintessence Theatre Group, in its fifth season of staging progressive classic theater. The story looks at how appearance affects relationships and how change is universal. It also, according to producers, explores how any home can become a cage, any failure in communication can become a nightmare, and any regret can become a monster.
Rebecca Wright, of West Philadelphia, directs the play and hopes to make the experience intriguing and insightful for viewers. Yes, it’s a story about a guy turns into a bug, but it’s so much more.
“It’s a story of how everyone transforms,” she said. “Each character does and how do they deal with that and isolation and miscommunication?”
Metamorphosis refers to more than just a man becoming a creature. And the adaptation they’re using is very physical, Wright said.
“It refers to the all of the character transformations and more mundane ones that happen. All bodies change,” she said. “I’m interested in human bodies changing, in human relationships changing. It can feel dramatic and extreme, but it’s part of being alive.”
And since that applies to men and women, the main part of Gregor is being played by a woman. Since they’re focusing on “inquiry of the body” and “the extent that we can and can’t make decisions about how we present in the world,” Wright said, using a woman for the lead fits.
“We wanted to further explore how gender is a part of that and also not. Gender is something we can choose,” she said.
The character will be dressed androgynously and there will be no formal acknowledgement (other than her name in credits) that a woman is playing Gregor. A few other male characters also will be played by women. All of that just underscores the thoughts the company aims to express.
“It does so by its presence,” Wright said. “Gregor’s a guy being played by a female person. We’re in an age where gender is so much more flexible.”
Kristen Bailey, of West Philadelphia, is excited to play Gregor.
“I can’t think of a more awesome dude role,” she said, adding that she’s an “unsuspecting tool to do a traditional job.”
She was concerned about how to create her character when the rehearsal process began.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to be a bug. How’s that going to work?’” she said.
But working with the people in the production has made it easier and fun. Some even recommended bug actions and sounds.
“I get a lot of support to figure out how to communicate this grotesque and absurd situation,” she said.
One of the challenges, she said, is finding a way not to wear her emotions on her sleeve.
“I’m very feminine that way and I have to figure out what is his masculine way of dealing with emotions?” she said. “How does this man process these things differently than if this character was a woman?”
Another challenge: working on her androgyny. She’s trying to be “a buttoned-up dude,” and gets chastised for wiggling her hips in rehearsal.
“No matter how I move, if it’s the manliest man move, everyone still will know I’m a woman,” she said, thanks to her womanly curves.
It’s a joy no matter how much work’s involved, because both women have a fondness for the story.
Wright has been digging deeper into levels she didn’t recognize during her first read of it in high school.
“When you’re in the middle of those hormonal changes, you’re perhaps less tuned into those changes,” Wright said. “Reading it now, it’s such a story about adolescence and what it feels like to change and not fully understand, to be ‘other’ and not really know what that means.”
Like Wright, Bailey first read the story in high school.
“I loved it, but had no idea why,” she said.
She read it again a few years ago and starting seeing more clearly.
“I was thinking about what it’s like to grow up in Salt Lake City, Utah, with friends who came out, and their families treated them like a giant beetle,” she said. “There are so many ways that you can use this metaphor to apply to anything you might be struggling with.”
And yes, she’s a woman playing a man who turns into a bug – but the story is universal.
“Being a woman makes it an ‘any man’ thing in a more accessible way,” Bailey said. “Anyone can watch it and see themselves.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Metamorphosis
When: Previews Feb. 4-6; opening night Feb. 7; runs Feb. 8-March 1
Where: Quintessence Theatre Group, Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, PA 19119.
Tickets: $27-$34; $25 for seniors (65 and over); $15 for youth (21 and under). Group discounts and weekday student matinees are available.
Info.: Call (215) 987-4450 or visit. www.QuintessenceTheatre.org.