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FRINGE REVIEW: Metamorphosis

With a descriptor like "a chamber opera about Kafka's celebrated work, 'The Metamorphosis'", you would be forgiven for your bafflement followed by a loud balking at the person who just told you that such a thing exists.  But there it is.  As full of pomp a sit sounds, The Metamorphosis is surely one of the most bizarre productions at the Fringe this year.  Though inadvertently humourous at times, The Metamorphosis is played decidedly straight-faced, lacking any hint of irony whatsoever.  For those curious enough to take the plunge, it remains far too surreal, a strange experience existing largely as the ridiculous cultural anomaly that it is.  However, the score is excellent and retains the pathos and weirdness true to Kafka's work.  The cast performs the material admirably, given its horribly pretentious nature, and do their best to bring their characters to life.  Ultimately, the production fails due to its lack of self-awareness, defiantly standing proud in the face of having its underpants pulled down while the audience is left to wonder how any of this could have been considered a good idea to begin with.

Two out of five stars.

more in Fringe Reviews     |     posted Aug 14th, 2010 at 9:13pm     

Comments: 36

dontheconductor wrote:

This reviewer is offended that our Fringe production of Kafka's Metamorphosis is bizarre. Sorry!

on Aug 14th, 2010 at 10:10pm Report Abuse

Aaron Marko wrote:

I was more speaking of the concept itself as opposed to the actual production.

on Aug 14th, 2010 at 11:56pm Report Abuse

dontheconductor wrote:

Fair enough, Aaron, but you still come across to me like someone who goes to an Indian restaurant and is appalled to be served spicy food.

on Aug 15th, 2010 at 10:36am Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

Kafka's Metamorphosis has been set several times as a chamber opera - in Europe, in Japan. There is no doubt this is an effective setting of the story, with added textual elements and a complex musical language which brilliantly expresses the tone of Kafka's work.

As for the humour, it is inherent in the work as Kafka envisioned it - and it is not the kind of humour that laughs at itself, but is intended to be done straight-faced. I read a certain amount of source material when I was involved with a different Kafka adaptation and found that Kafka and his friends considered these stories to be dark comedies - they were very funny.

Yes, express your opinion about whether or not it works - but to suggest the humour is unintended, or that it is somehow odd to adapt Metamorphosis as a chamber opera, suggests the reviewer did not do so much as 5 minutes of research into the history of Kafka and his works OR into the nature and history of modern chamber opera.

I concur with dontheconductor: how strage it is to be slagged as "bizarre" at a Fringe festival, where "bizarre" was once the norm. This production should be lauded for taking risks.

on Aug 15th, 2010 at 11:23am Report Abuse

Aaron Marko wrote:

I see. So what you guys are saying is that I'm neither "cultured" nor "educated" enough to have an opinion on a production. Fair enough. The fact is that I didn't do any research on ANY of the productions that I went to other than the small blurb I was provided. I knew absolutely nothing about it and experienced it as such.

Perhaps I should have been better prepared, but the fact is that I see a lot of plays and don't really have time to do research on them. Is this truly unreasonable of me? I don't know. Maybe it is, but I really feel it's more honest of me to develop my opinion that way as I feel it's much more unbiased.

So there I went, Mr. Everyman Reviewer and this production wasn't for me. I will acquiesce that SOMEONE will probably like this production, however, MOST PEOPLE will not and I feel that as Mr. Everyman Reviewer, I have a duty to warn people regarding productions i feel a large majority of them would not enjoy. Metamorphosis is attempting to appeal to a VERY small niche: 1. people who like Kafka and 2. people who like chamber opera.

Does knowing that The Metamorphosis has been a chamber opera before in Japan or Europe change my opinion? Not particularly. It doesn't change the fact that it's still a really weird idea. It's the day after and I still can't get over it.

I don't really care how many times that it's been a chamber opera. It doesn't change that I don't think it's particularly the best idea I've heard of. Actually, for me, it's pretty much on par with U2 wanting to make a musical about Spider-Man in terms of terrible ideas. I don't think it works.

Okay, so the humor's obvious to you, brightdog. I'm sure that if I had spent the same amount of time researching Kafka's life as you have, that I would undoubtedly be fully aware how blatantly obvious the humor was. Unfortunately, I don't and while I laughed, I felt really uncomfortable doing so given the stodgy, dry nature of the production.

I don't feel that it's fair to me as a reviewer or general Fringegoer for you to sit there, brightdog, and tell me that I really need to study a whole ton of books before I go to see a Fringe play. I feel that if a production, or any work of art for that matter, is good, that it should need no defending, no researching and should be able to stand on its own merits without rationalizing everything about it away.

on Aug 15th, 2010 at 2:51pm Report Abuse

alistairhenning wrote:

I'd just like to step in an say that all of our reviews are obviously the opinions of the solitary individuals who sat through the productions for us. Due to the very nature of Fringe, it's possible one person may absolutely love a play and the next despise it.

While Aaron may not have loved the play, having read the review those who may not hold Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis' as close to their hearts as some of our commentators are likely to be able to make a more informed choice whether to see it or not.

on Aug 15th, 2010 at 9:26pm Report Abuse

dontheconductor wrote:

OK, this is fun. Thanks for chiming in brightdog, we were hoping someone would see it that way. Aaron, no-one's belittling your erudition, or your right to have your own opinion. You don't need a bunch of that there fancy book-learnin' to be a Fringe reviewer, or to take delight in opera, however wierd and edgy, as millions do. One would expect a reviewer of Fringe shows to have at least some openness to experimentation and new combinations of forms. The term "Fringe Theatre Festival" I think, implies that. You rated our show as a bad show not because there was any lack of excellence, but because you found it bizarre. You told the world our Kafka opera was bad because you don't like opera, you don't like Kafka and you don't like things that you find strange. Did we say somewhere on the playbill that we were doing something else besides a Kafka opera? Do we mislead the unsuspecting? The musicians and singers perform miricles with dazzlingly complex and layered music, composed right here in Edmonton. Perhaps if you come back and listen with your ears instead of your biases you might find more to savour.
We need to embrace experimentation at the Fringe. It can't be all fart jokes and blondes with tassels, though I'm fond of both of those things.

on Aug 15th, 2010 at 11:20pm Report Abuse

dontheconductor wrote:

Also, if U2 was doing a musical about Spiderman at the Fringe, I would definitely buy a ticket

on Aug 15th, 2010 at 11:22pm Report Abuse

Non-member wrote:

Right on, Aaron — why should a reviewer bother to acquire any knowledge whatsoever of the artwork they're passing judgment on? In fact, the perfect person to judge an adaptation of "The Metamorphosis" is probably someone who's never even *heard* of Kafka before, right? Because the last thing a reader could possibly want from a review is someone who could offer historical insight into the material, or talk knowledgably about the original story, or put it into some kind of cultural context. No, it's much more helpful to get the insights of "Mr. Everyman Reviewer"!

By the way, that's also why my favourite music critics are the ones who've never listened to the Beatles, and my favourite movie critics are the ones who've never even heard of *Citizen Kane.* Anyhow, I'm just glad to know that SEE's writers have as little regard for their own profession as they do for the works of art they write about.

on Aug 15th, 2010 at 11:30pm Report Abuse

Aaron Marko wrote:


on Aug 16th, 2010 at 12:02am Report Abuse

dontheconductor wrote:

Ouch, allcaps!
I guess you'll have to come see for yourselves folks. According to Aaron "the score is excellent" and "the cast performs the material admirably". We're at Venue #1 Tuesday at 8:45 pm, Thursday at 4:00, Friday at noon and Saturday at 10:15. We're having a lot of fun with it, we hope you do too.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 12:34am Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

Aaron, that's fine - you can feel it is boring and pretentious and you can say so and you have every right to do so. If you had said "I don't know much about Kafka or chamber opera, but this doesn't work for me," that would have been fine - because readers would have understood where you were coming from.

And your review DOES say a lot of positive things about the show, and it is nice that those things came through for you and that you wrote about them too.

Let's say you have 30 shows to review. Let's say that maybe half of them are unfamiliar territory because of the genre or the source material. And you spent 10 minutes on each of those ones, doing quick internet scans so you would have some background and context for your reviews. That would have been a total of 2.5 hours spread out over the two weeks before the festival. No sweat.

"ridiculous cultural anomaly" is a statement that was bound to provoke reaction from people who have a wider knowledge base in either music or literature or theatre. You didn't say it didn't work FOR YOU - you slagged the work itself.

I am aware of the challenges of being a reviewer. The late Jacob Siskind, long-time critic at the Ottawa Citizen, was one of my mentors, and he taught me that it was fine to take a strong position but it had to come either from solid knowledge OR by admitting that you don't have that knowledge but this is your personal reaction.

You have now clarified your approach in your responses above - and that's much appreciated.

Have a great Fringe!

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 12:43am Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

AlpaCheeno, the fact that you have to misrepresent Aaron's position does not flatter you.

As to the performers -- grow the fuck up. If you had the slightest lick of self-awareness you'd recognize you're simply proving you're as pompous and self-important as Aaron pegged you.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 12:48am Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

Dear neoconsmasher - introducing name-calling and expletives into the discussion while advising others to be mature is an interesting approach.

As for misrepresenting Aaron, his review did not say the performers were pompous and self-important - he compliments them. So I lob your own words back: "the fact that you have to misrepresent Aaron's position does not flatter you."

Mr. Marko has ably clarified and defended his position. The vocalists, who are likely not yet aware of this discussion, are long-time members of the Edmonton singing and acting community - including other Fringe outings - and I have seen them perform a wide variety of repertoire over the years - from goofball comedy to formal oratorio. They always enter fully into the spirit of their work, as all good actors do. I have also seen several of the instrumentalists in other work - the drummer plays Bigger Than Vegas at this Fringe, the other instrumentalists play all kinds of music around town.

Here everyone is applying their talents to a work derived from an acknowledged literary masterpiece - not necessarily so much for its technical brilliance but because it encapsulated a world view of alienation, even alienation from the self. All the characters are self-absorbed, but it would be an injustice to assume that the nature of the roles reflects the nature of the performers.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 9:13am Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

Aaron called the production "pretentious." Any thesaurus will tell you that pompous and self-important are synonyms. So no, I didn't misrepresent anything. Nor did I call anyone names.

As for expletives, guilty as charged, but that seriously pales next to the nonsense on this thread. An artist responding to his critics could very well result in a useful discussion. All the respondents here have done are go after Aaron in the most painfully arrogant fashion possible: if it's not someone involved with the production suggesting he's not somehow worthy to criticize their art, it's someone dispensing condescending, unsolicited instructions on how to be a critic.

At most, Aaron might have clarified some of his points a little more. Had posters politely suggested this, or -- go figure! -- ASKED him to, we would have had a different thread. Instead, everyone came in guns a-blazing, quite possibly drunk, to demean him personally. One deleted comment even attacked the editor of the magazine, for God's sake.

In short, the posters involved with Metamorphosis have reacted in precisely the worst possible way, making themselves look thin-skinned and whiny. Which only validates Aaron's impression of the play as "pretentious." Given how these performers are presenting themselves here, it's not hard to believe in the least.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 11:19am Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

Dear neoconsmasher;

I would imagine, Mr. Neoconsmasher, that if someone who admitted being ignorant of the very basis of your work were to make a public pronouncement on it, that you might be moved to respond.

No-one whose postings I have seen has "demeaned" Mr. Marko. No-one has "gone after Aaron". If you look at the thread, the strongest comment made has been that he didn't do any research - which he readily admits.

I did not see the deleted comment, and I do not know who posted it, and your strong reactions are quite likely justified in that case.

The other stronger suggestions in this thread have been put in our mouths by you and Mr. Marko himself. We did not say he was uncultured or uneducated - HE said we did.

And the strongest comments I have seen come from you - suggesting people who have posted in this forum are drunk and that the people involved in the production are pompous and self-important etc.

Every posting I have seen has upheld Mr. Marko's right to an opinion and to voicing that opinion. He has been credited with his positive observations as well as his negative ones.

It isn't "condescending" to present facts and your knowledge basis to show that your differing opinion has validity. I am not ignorant of the nature of a reviewer's work, so I am at least as qualified to judge the reviewer's work in a public forum as he is to judge The Metamorphosis.

Perhaps, Mr. Neoconsmasher, you would be willing to share some of your knowledge of modern chamber opera or the specific work in question, and then we could have the "different thread" you mention above.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 12:15pm Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

Whether Aaron is familiar with the basis of your work is irrelevant. All that matters is whether what's onstage works in its own right. You're just rationalizing and making excuses, as Aaron already said. And you still haven't shown the slightest bit of self-awareness. Keep it up, I'm sure this will convince scads of potential audience members to come see your show.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 12:28pm Report Abuse

FisherTJohnson wrote:

Look fellas, I've had my fair share of rage against reviews that I perceived to be unfair or imbalanced. So I understand why you're worked up.

But I've been performing at fringes for more than a decade, and I've read a lot of reviews, and what I see going on here is a nice reviewer getting argued with by artists who are frustrated at the reception their project is receiving this year. It happens to all of us, trust me. I say this not to be mean, honestly, but other reviews for this show have been similarly lukewarm.

Aaron wrote a supportive review of a show he didn't like. I think that kind of behavior should be rewarded, because he doesn't have to do that. But instead you guys are antagonizing him.

Regular, everyday, non-theatre folks represent the bulk of audiences at the fringe, so I feel it's perfectly appropriate to take a Mr. everyman approach to reviewing shows.

A mentor of mine once told me that reviews can present an important opportunity to have an honest dialogue about the work. It was hard for me to hear that then (I wanted him to say: you're right, that reviewer sucks) and it's just as hard now. But I try, and I encourage you all to try, to learn from the experience. Even if you're doing very specific work, you can always afford to recognize different (dare I say, less informed) perspectives.

I never thought I'd defend a reviewer in this kind of discussion, but in this case I have to. Mostly because he was kind in his initial review and you guys gave him such a hard time, I'm worried he won't be as kind to the next show he doesn't like. And that just makes it harder for the next generation of emerging fringe artists.

So hats off to you Mr. Marko, don't let the internet comments get you down.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 1:27pm Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

No-one has said he can't be Mr. Everyman! Why do people keep putting these words in our mouths and then accuse us of being pretentious?

Mr. Marko did not approach the review as Mr. Everyman. He only said that later, in explaining the review - and that was accepted. The "ridiculous cultural anomaly" comment from the original review has been removed - and for that I thank him.

No-one has argued that the production should get better reviews. No-one has argued on the point that the average Fringer won't like it - it IS a niche audience. For some reason, the people defending Mr. Marko keep attributing things to us that we did not write, including insisting that we are attacking Mr. Marko.

We are self aware. We are also aware of the traditions that inform our work. At no point have we suggested this would be on a par with a 5-star sketch comedy troupe. All we asked is that the reviewer either makes some effort to understand that context or that he is up front in the review that he does not have that knowledge base. That is about respecting the art, no matter who is performing it.

I, for one, feel the review is very thought-provoking.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 1:46pm Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

Just not saying anything more would make you look a lot better than all of this patently disingenuous back-pedaling.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 1:52pm Report Abuse

ArtsDiva wrote:

Actually, the phrase I take exception to is "Mr. Everyman Reviewer" and reviewing on the basis of that filter.

I do recall a time when classical music writers reviewed the operas at the Fringe (and the roots writers reviewed the folk shows and so on ...). Even though the reviewer is only given 200 or so words, a bit of context is preferable to "Joe Schmoe" would not like this ...

I find that attitude and approach to theatre criticism at the Fringe is a major detriment to the festival and ANYONE wanting to experiment, or perform anything other than an accessible "well-made play" or sketch comedy or lightening fast multi-character solo reenactments of other great works movies etc...

The Fringe sometimes feels like a festival where insularity and predictability are rewarded - rather counter to the original idea of a Fringe, no?

You are the so called "alternative press" In a festival where the stars awarded by the Journal determine the success or failure of a show ...NOT THE ACTUAL WRITTEN REVIEW... I would have hoped to see something more original expressed.

And yes, artists and reviewers - this debate is an endless vicious debate - the only thing that can be hoped for is fairness and balance and a sense of the responsibility the reviewer in this forum has.

on Aug 16th, 2010 at 8:24pm Report Abuse

Kafka Esquire wrote:

Wait. So someone's a bug?

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 12:59am Report Abuse

Kafka Esquire wrote:

Whoops. How do you erase stuff?

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 1:19am Report Abuse

Kafka Esquire wrote:


on Aug 17th, 2010 at 1:19am Report Abuse

ednawelthorpemrs wrote:

Wow, never before did I think I'd side with a reviewer! Congrats guys! I now officially want to never see this show! Good work!

Also, a little tip from a professional to keep under your hat for a theoretical next time: When we professionals get bad reviews, here's what we do: We ignore them. Or we bitch about them privately. We certainly dont march over to a public forum and try to start a fight.

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 2:11am Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

Dear ednawelthorpemrs;

Thank you for the tip. You will notice that no-one has suggested the show deserved more stars or a better review - the issue was one of knowing what you are reviewing vs. not knowing and judging it inappropriately. Perhaps if you had seen some of the material that has been removed from the review and the discussion, you would have a different opinion.

As for the attitudes of professionals toward reviews - well, history is full of professional artists who have responded to their critics. This is particularly true in classical music - and makes for fun reading. There is more than one way to be a professional. I respect yours. And if you know the people involved in this production, you might concede that they have enough professional experience to gauge for themselves how they want to react. Many performers don't even read the reviews until after the show is done. Personally, I think reviewers can often give you insight and that external eye that can help you make your performance even better.

Note, too, that you as a professional felt compelled to share your own knowledge and philosophy about how one responds to reviews - because you feel we are doing it wrong. You see the parallel? We, as professionals, felt we should share our knowledge with a reviewer who was unfamiliar with Kafka's work and chamber opera in general because there were elements of the original posting that were factually incorrect.

Besides, I prefer not to talk behind the reviewer's back, but to give the reviewer a chance to explain himself. Which Mr. Marko did, admirably. So what's the problem?

Mr. Marko was very complimentary about the performers - and that has been repeatedly pointed out and he has been thanked for that. None of the performers has voiced any feeling of being unfairly treated - it is other people in the discussion who keep saying that the performers are doing that.

If you have no interest in Kafka or modern chamber opera, then by all means go see something else. It isn't for everyone - just as Mr. Marko says.

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 8:32am Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

Holy Odin's Beard, you guys are clueless. When even OTHER PERFORMERS are telling you you're acting stupidly, perhaps you ought to listen, you know?

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 8:47am Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

Good to hear from you again, neoconsmasher. Perhaps you would like to contribute something more than insults?

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 9:30am Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

I'm not insulting you. Your clearly bloated ego only perceives it as such. What I'm doing is pointing out what's obvious to everyone but you. I won't lie, you guys are so lacking in self-awareness, it's actually funny. But I'm also trying to give you some helpful advice. You are making yourselves look absolutely awful with every single response. It will be small consolation to you later, I guarantee, to know you've won on the Internet while winning an absolutely terrible reputation as completely narcissistic, self-important performers. You've already had one of your peers tell you your conduct makes her want to boycott you. People are sticking up for the reviewer, not you. This should all tell you something. Just stop now. Seriously. For your own good.

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 9:59am Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

Thanks, neoconsmasher! Knew you could be relied upon.

It's not about winning or losing. The original conversation was about what a reviewer's approach is - and everyone seemed to agree on that one, including you. Issue resolved and we could all move on.

But then the conversation veered into an attack on the performers for questioning a reviewer (at no point have the performers whined about how they were portrayed by the reviewer) on very specific points. Even though the reviewer and you agreed they were valid points.

So here we are - with one person still banging the drum that the performers are whiny, self-absorbed, and have bloated egos (while still insisting it is only their PERCEPTION that he is insulting them). And one person still defending themselves. And it must be terribly everyone else.

But it has served a purpose...

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 11:05am Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

Aaron was right about one thing, all right. You are clearly unintentionally hilarious.

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 11:10am Report Abuse

Kafka Esquire wrote:

Which guy's the bug? The main guy?

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 12:55pm Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

Jeff Goldblum. He wanted to be the first insect politician. Then he died. : (

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 12:56pm Report Abuse

brightdog wrote:

*giggles at neoconsmasher* You also missed the part about Kafka's intended humour in The Metamorphosis? You've been a great sport, neocon, and helped keep the show on the review blog home page for the past three days - thank you! Enjoy the rest of the Fringe!

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 7:20pm Report Abuse

neoconsmasher wrote:

Right, this was all part of your big master plan. **roll**

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 8pm Report Abuse

dontheconductor wrote:

Hey cranky See bloggers,
We, like, doubled our house tonight, thanks! Hope you all come to love opera like we do. Kafka esquire: nuk!

on Aug 17th, 2010 at 11:06pm Report Abuse

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