Frank Theatre's "Metamorphosis": The humor of nightmares

Categories: Theater
John Catron by Tony Nelson
​When I reach Frank Theatre artistic director Wendy Knox on the phone this week, it's to discuss the adaptation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis opening this Friday at Open Eye Figure Theatre. Turns out, this day at least, Knox is tackling more than her directorial work: she's answering Frank's main line, fielding a call about the company's tax I.D., and herding the small pack of pooches that can be heard emitting canine moans from the other end of the phone. 

Things soon settle down, though, and Knox is raring to talk about Kafka's novella concerning traveling salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning in his family home to discover that he has transformed during the night into a huge, disgusting insect. It's a story chock full of loathing and despair, but when I point out that Kafka's humorous side is often overlooked, Knox is all over it. 

"We've been laughing a lot. I crack up all the time," she says of the show's creation. "Like the part when Gregor talks about getting revenge on the family. He says, I'll get them--I'll go into the pantry."

Frank first had the idea of staging a version of the book that debuted in London a few years ago, but was finally unable to get the rights after several tries. By then, though, the idea had become irresistible. 

"I just said, why don't we write our own adaptation," Knox says. 

The decision-making process ran through the company's Frank Artists Resource and Thinktank (FART). While Frank's website references something called the Artists' Advisory Board, we'll go with Knox's more fragrant version of things. However you cut it, Frank's close-knit roster of artists gave the company the luxury of starting work way back in December; between then and now is a lifetime in terms of staging a show for most companies. 

"For the Frank actors, every project is like a huge research project. They're really hungry intellectually," says Knox. "12 or 15 of us in December read the novella out loud, and we had a huge wad of Post-its where I asked them to scrawl any questions or puzzlements or things they really liked."

At the beginning of the conversation, Knox talked about "this little skit" she was working on, but her enthusiasm comes through with greater force the longer we talk. Recent Frank productions have staged a variety of plays, but this is the company's first foray into company collaboration since 2005's Women of Troy. The script ended up being a true combination of text by the actors and Knox, the sort of mind-meld that can only come about after years of working together. 

Kafka himself was often a sly humorist beneath his tales of dread and suffering; Gregor's tale should find ample weight in this production, but don't forget the funny. 

"The deeper the nightmare aspects, the funnier it gets," Knox says. Enthusiasts of Kafka, or Frank Theatre for that matter, know precisely what she is talking about. 

"Metamorphosis" plays April 9-May 1 at Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 East 26th Street, Minneapolis. Tickets are $18-$20 and can be purchased here or by calling 612.724.3760. Performances are Thu.-Sat. at 8:00 p.m., Sun. at 2:00 p.m. There's an additional performance Monday, April 26, at 8:00 p.m., and this Saturday's performance is pay-what-you-can ($10 suggested minimum). 

A free download of Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis" is available here from Project Gutenberg. 

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