Curtain Calls XTRA

By Donald V. Calamia

Review: 'The Metamorphosis'

Detroit's 'coolest theater' tackles Kafka with captivating results

Some people get no respect.

One such person is Gregor Samsa, a hardworking, unmarried man who supports his ungrateful family with a thankless job he really doesn't like. And when he, in turn, needs their assistance, what do they do? They reject him even more!

Of course awakening one morning to discover that he's been transformed into a giant, ugly bug might have something to do with it. But in Frank Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," a sad tale with a peculiarly happy ending is to be expected.

What wasn't necessarily expected was the excellent adaptation of Kafka's short story by playwright Charles Dizenzo and director Chris Korte that opened this past weekend at Detroit's Abreact Performance Space on the fringe of Greektown.

Nor was the capacity crowd that packed the theater!

A social commentator, Kafka was a Czech author born in 1883 of upwardly mobile German Jewish parents. He suffered from an inferiority complex - his father disapproved of his writing - and no matter where he lived or what he did to earn a living, he always felt like an outsider. It was those inner demons the expressionistic writer tapped when he crafted his stories about isolated people who found themselves in nightmarish situations.

That certainly describes the life Gregor awakens to at the opening of the play. As the family's sole wage earner, his mother, father and sister seem unfazed by Gregor's transformation. After all, they believe, it shouldn't be long before Gregor recovers and returns to work. But the longer it lasts, the more concerned they become. And as Gregor's life becomes more horrific, theirs, too, undergoes a change.

It's not only Gregor who undergoes a metamorphosis!

Director Korte - who seems to be everywhere this season - has populated his production with a cast that teems with talent. Each of the characters has a different reaction to Gregor's situation, and all are precisely portrayed by Linda Rabin Hammell, Henry Nelson, Joel Mitchell, Aphrodite Nikolovski and Tamam Tayeh.

The production's success, however, hinges on the performance of Chuck Reynolds. Gregor is a role that must explore a whole spectrum of emotions, yet elicit much sympathy from the audience. It's also a physically and emotionally demanding role in which he must convince the audience that what we're watching is the bug's entire life cycle. From its initial awakening to the discovery of its amazing abilities, and from its acceptance of the dilemma to its eventual deterioration, Reynolds gives a sweaty, but spectacular performance.

Troy Richards' split set beautifully captures the family's contrasts. (And much to Reynolds' relief, I'm sure, it holds up well under his weight!)

And although a few minor snafus crept into the opening night performance, all other technical aspects of the production are likewise fine.

"The Metamorphosis" Presented Friday and Saturday at The Abreact Performance Space, 442 E. Lafayette, Detroit, through May 15, plus Sunday May 8 & 15. Tickets: By donation. 313-378-5404.

The Bottom Line: Those who think Kafka is a tough sell - or can't be done well, or won't attract a young audience - have much to learn from Detroit's friendliest loft theater!

'The Ladies Show: The Breast Show in Town'

There's no need to fear: Men are also invited Wednesday nights to Improv Inferno

With a name like "The Ladies Show: The Breast Show in Town," one might conclude that the latest sketch comedy at Ann Arbor's Improv Inferno is designed only for those blessed with two "X" chromosomes. Or that the evening might be filled with Janet Jackson moments. Both couldn't be more wrong!

Instead, the Wednesday night program is simply an original night of comedy written and performed by the women who are part of the Inferno's improv ensemble. Sure, it looks at life from a female perspective, but it does so without become a comedic version of "The Vagina Monologues." Women's (or womyn's) issues aren't explored in excruciating detail, and thankfully, creatures with penises aren't trashed simply because they have them.

What's presented, then, is an entertaining night of comedy - and like every other night of comedy, it's filled with hits and misses. Which is which, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder!

Under the direction of Sabrina Harper, the four performers - Lauren Bickers, Christy Bonstell, Trish Izzo and Cara Trautman - open the show and immediately prove why they didn't stage a musical instead. (If that sounds harsh, relaxÉanyone who's ever been to a night of Karaoke completely understands that comment.) They close the show with the same characters, but in a poignantly funny scene about two overly-intense Karaoke rivals.

Political commentary makes a thankfully-brief appearance in one of the most creative segments of the show. A foreign war correspondent files a live report from Wherethehellisthat. Or does she?

In another imaginative segment, two dorks - longtime friends because who else would have them - arrive at college, and one of them wants to change her image. And wouldn't you know it, eternal tormenter Jenny Perkins isn't far behind!

The audience howled when the four came out dressed like pirates - and announced they are out of tampons. Maybe THAT'S why the sharks were circling their ship! But that's the LEAST of their problems!

And who knew cats have the power to keep a lesbian couple from splitting up?

Not as successful is the scene in which a woman tries to pick up a man in bar. What ruined it - for me and my companion that night, at least - is its punch line. Gay jokes CAN be funny, but this one got old years ago. Couldn't the writers figure out any other way to end the scene?

Also pointless is a series of short scenes in which a woman is obviously a cocaine user and - unsuccessfully to the audience, at least - she tries to hide it. The final punch line goes for the obvious and confirms what we already know. A more creative approach would have surprised us with a totally unexpected reason for the sniffles.

If you plan on attending "The Ladies Show," please consider this warning: Be aware of the empty seats around you. For when you least expect it, an obnoxious little girl who ends each sentence as if it was a question might appear and pester you with typical childlike chatter. From MY perspective, she didn't visit enough. And Trish Izzo's portrayal couldn't have been better!

"The Ladies Show: The Breast Show in Town" Presented Wednesday nights only at the Improv Inferno, 309 S. Main, Ann Arbor. Tickets: $5. 734-214-7080. http://www.improvinferno.com.

The Bottom Line: With far more hits than misses, Wednesdays are no longer the most boring night of the week, thanks to the latest entry on the Improv Inferno's schedule.

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