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Founded in 1991, the Black Box Theatre is the oldest English-language theatre in Prague. In addition to its season of contemporary American, English, and Irish plays, over the past three years it has been presenting a summer festival of Czech works in English. Its production of Metamorphosis characterizes its internationalizing of Czech theatre within the precincts of Prague. Directed by Nancy Bishop, the cast included American, English, and Irish actors, while the set was done by Czech Jan Hrus=a. Berkoff brilliantly rendered Kafka’s bleakly comic masterpiece for the stage and the success of this production rested primarily on the excellent performance of Scott Bellefeuille in the key role of Gregor Samsa, the traveling salesman who wakes [End Page 114] up one morning to discover he has been transformed into a cockroach. Stripped to dancer’s tights, Bellefeuille (who alternated the role with Tom O’Leary) performed utterly convincing cockroach contortions as he crouched with elbows extended outward and perched on taut finger tips. Moreover, he used Hrus=a’s stark set—a scaffolding cage raised on a ramp serving as Samsa’s bedroom—with monkey-like agility, jumping sideways to cling to the side bars or hang bat-like from the top. Gregor would slither down the steep ramp toward where the rest of his family members gathered on stools or would beat a hasty retreat back up when encountering their disgust. Thus Gregor remained the center of attention, his presence constantly hovering over the family.
Only Gregor occupied the cage except for the climatic action of his father’s rage. After the departure of their lodger who was to supply them with a replacement income, Mr. Samsa rushes into the cage as Gregor scrambles downstage to escape him. From his superior height, however, Mr. Samsa throws an apple at his son’s back, which remains embedded and, rotting away, eventually kills him. The horror of the moment was particularly graphic because Bellefeuille, at the edge of the stage, stared straight into the audience as the apple struck. Moreover, while his body held its cockroach pose, his wide-eyed expression of amazement, sorrow, and incomprehension made him appear uncannily like the young Kafka himself. This superimposition of the two images was arresting—as if Kafka’s ghost haunted the production.
Greta, Gregor’s sister, played by Orla Tuthill, is at first the most sympathetic to his plight, but later vehemently turns against him when her desire for normalcy overcomes the last vestiges of her love. Tuthill and Gail Fitzpatrick as Mrs. Samsa played their roles with moving conviction, their stylized gestures for the most part smoothly alternating with their characters’ direct emotional expressions. Robert Orr was less comfortable with his role as Mr. Samsa perhaps because of the unabashed hatred Kafka poured into the father’s character; the emotion overwhelmed the stylized manner of the production. Orr’s difficulty was evident in contrast [End Page 115] with the long-legged Tim O’Leary who played the senior clerk, Gregor’s boss, who, with comically large but determined strides, arrives to tell him that his absence from work will imperil his job. O’Leary successfully combined the clichéd bureaucratic behavior of dehumanized mechanical movement and clipped fixed speech patterns with the demands of the narrative that was both comic and terrifying in its indifference to human individuality. More representative and less personal than the father, O’Leary played this cruelty with tight control so that the character both complied with the mannerism of Berkoff’s rendition while still being totally convincing.
The family members had more complex psychology and thus the mechanical movement was less easily integrated. They tended to engage in...