Gisli Örn Garðarsson’s Gregor Samsa is the best-looking bug you will ever see — more likely to give you goosebumps than make your skin crawl. And in the inventive co-production of Metamorphosis by Iceland’s Vesturport Theatre and London’s Lyric Hammersmith Theatre being presented here by ArtsEmerson, he will ultimately break your heart, tumbling slowly and gracefully down a red-velvet skein to the cruel death we fans of Kafka’s 1915 transformative tale know is coming. But however inevitable Gregor’s fate, the theater piece (adapted and directed by Garðarsson and David Farr) offers a rare unfolding of surprises — including a hypnotic score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and a two-tiered, magic-trick-performing set that balances Gregor’s bedroom on its side (the better for ex-gymnast Garðarsson to hang and skittle) atop the dingy living room where his family carries on after their sole support wakes one morning transformed into a bulbous, un-understandable insect. The 85-minute theater piece is not subtle, its totalitarian undertones writ large and the acting by all but Garðarsson stylized in a manner both mundane and grotesque. But what is Metamorphosis if not grotesque? And isn’t Gregor, whether agile pretty boy or beetle, the only character in the strange business who holds on to his humanity?
METAMORPHOSIS :: Paramount Center, 559 Washington St, Boston :: Through March 3 :: $25-$79 :: 617.824.8400 or arstemerson.org
, London, Metamorphosis, ArtsEmerson