The spunky crew over at Catalyst Theatre might want to consider the fitness market for its wired, wearying revival of "Metamorphosis." Owing primarily to a ceaselessly aerobic performance by Scott Fortier as a man who goes to bed a salesman and wakes up a bug, the production could be videotaped and sold to those who seek to exercise both body and mind. They could even call it "The Kafka Workout."
Fortier struts and sweats his hour upon the stage, bringing a bracing physicality to his rendition of Gregor Samsa, the doomed hero of this scathingly surreal classic about a young man's alienation from work and family. Sometimes audiences feed hungrily on the kind of energy this well-named company supplies. At others, the intensity simply can get too, well, intense. The latter proves to be the problem for this high-strung production: It pushes and pushes, and never stops to catch its breath.
The effect of all the fever-pitch exertion on a spectator is a strange kind of torpor. It's difficult to sustain concentration for a play that's all peak and no valley. The unmodulated style, encouraged apparently by director Jim Petosa, infects even the bit players. When, for instance, Gregor's boss (James O. Dunn) visits the home of Gregor, his parents (Nigel Reed and Valerie Leonard) and his sister (September Marie Fortier) to find out why Gregor hasn't reported for work, the scene is played as one of near-hysteria. It ends with a shrill Dunn fleeing and shrieking.
Catalyst's tiny theater in the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop may magnify the difficulties. The actors' exaggerated mannerisms and booming delivery feel as if they're meant for a much larger room. The claustrophobic black-box space can barely contain the performances.
Catalyst's "Metamorphosis" remounts an adaptation by Steven Berkoff that was seen on Broadway in 1989, a production made noteworthy by the casting of Mikhail Baryshnikov as Gregor. (Washington Shakespeare Company did it several years ago, too.) To play a man-turned-dung-beetle, you'd ideally like someone who can express the idea of an insect without the props department having to fashion antennae and mandibles. Baryshnikov, magnificent specimen that he was (and is), would seem to be about as supple a bug-man as you could possibly hope for.
If not particularly balletic (or insectlike), Fortier's Gregor is invested with the earthier quality of a tormented beast of burden. The story -- which revolves entirely around the events in the apartment Gregor shares with the family of which he is the sole provider -- drips with irony: Though it's Gregor who turns into a bug, it's the father, mother and sister who are the real parasites.
Once the extent of the family's dependence on and disgust with Gregor is laid out, Berkoff's adaptation has nowhere to go, and Petosa's manic approach all but smothers any of the piece's harsh comedy. Fortier, ensconced for much of the play in set designer Alexander Cooper's suggestion of Gregor's room as a cage, radiates an apt lost-boy quality as he dissolves ever further into insecthood.
The storytelling technique that Berkoff employs, apportioning bits of the narration to each of the characters, seems a bit passe. It contributes to the feeling that a lot of calories are being burned in a little theater on Capitol Hill for precious little return.
Metamorphosis, adapted from the Franz Kafka novel by Steven Berkoff. Directed by Jim Petosa. Set and lighting, Alexander Cooper; costumes, Kathleen Geldard; sound, Mark Anduss; assistant director, Paula Gruskiewicz; technical director, Steve Cosby. Approximately 75 minutes. Through Oct. 15 at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. Call 800-494-TIXS or visit www.catalysttheater.com.