Imagine waking one day to discover that you have transformed into an insect. One with a big, hard shell for a midsection and legs that flail hopelessly in the air when you are on your back, and you are now reviled by your family.
Or what about this: You are an ape, roaming free and wild, when you are captured, taken to a strange land, and realize that the only way to survive is to deny who you are and mimic the humans who have captured you.
Whoa. Such scenarios. They could only have come from the mind of Franz Kafka. And they could only be found on stage at someplace like The Rogue Theatre, which thrives on bringing Tucsonans challenging stage works that may not make the big bucks, but will definitely get you thinking.
The Rogue opens two works based on Kafka's writings: "Kafka's Monkey," an adaptation of "A Report to an Academy" by Irish playwright Colin Teevan, and "Metamorphosis," adapted by the Rogue's co-founder, Cynthia Meier.
Meier, who also directs "Metamorphosis," says the adaptation of the novella was fairly straightforward.
"What I essentially did is cut about half of it, and then turned it into first instead of third person, and present tense rather than past tense."
The story, about Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who wakes to discover he turns into a bug, is standard reading in high school and college. Few who read it forget it.
"The reason 'Metamorphosis' has been so popular is that there are days when we are all afraid that we've woken up as a bug, with the sense that we don't know our purpose in the world," says Meier.
Her interpretation of the story is highly stylized, says Meier.
"The family is on stage throughout the play, but behind a scrim," she says. "And at times, we hear Gregor's inner thoughts."
"Kafka's Monkey" is a very slight retooling of Kafka's short story, "A Report to an Academy." The play, like Kafka's original, has just one character, Red Peter, an ape who has assimilated into society in order to survive. The character, played by Rogue regular and powerful physical actress Patty Gallagher, is giving a lecture on his former life as that ape.
"This is a very, very close reading of the short story," said Joseph McGrath, co-founder of the company and director of "Kafka's Monkey."
But, he adds, there's a mighty difference between staging this piece and reading it.
"When you read the short story, you are reading a lecture, and it doesn't conjure the physicality of this creature that has learned to become human," says McGrath.
"We've confronted it, and it's fascinating to see Patty struggle with this creature who is built to walk on knuckles and now stands up straight … and who has rejected his past."
The ape's tale, says McGrath, gives us insight into who we are as humans.
"The way I see it is by having an animal take on human qualities, it shows us, by contrast, the aspects of being human," he says.
"It shows us who we are in a more vivid way. The interesting thing about Red Peter is, he's a pretty dark creature. He's extremely prideful, so venal, so full of human flaws and foibles. Kafka has not made him noble; he's self-deceptive."
The stories have more in common than the Kafka roots and physical transformation, says Meier.
"Both stories address what it is to be the outsider, what it is that makes us human. … I'm pretty excited about the two pieces together. They resonate and reflect on each other a lot. Having the two of them together is better than one."
If you go
• What: The Rogue Theatre's production of two one-acts, "Kafka's Monkey" and "Metamorphosis" both by Franz Kafka. Cynthia Meier adapted "Metamorphosis" from the story of the same name; Colin Teevan adapted "Kafka's Monkey" from the short story, "A Report to an Academy."
• Directors: Joseph McGrath ("Kafka's Monkey") and Cynthia Meier ("Metamorphosis").
• When: Previews at 7:30 p.m. today; opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Regular performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 17. There will be an additional 2 p.m. matinee on March 16.
• Where: The Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd.
• Tickets: $20 for Thursdays; $30 for all others; $15 for students with valid ID, available 15 minutes before curtain.
• Reservations/information: theroguetheatre.org or 551-2053.
• Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes, with one intermission.
• Cast: "Kafka's Monkey" - Patty Gallagher; "Metamorphosis" - Matt Bowdren, Marissa Garcia, David Greenwood, Patty Gallagher, Ryan Parker Knox.
• Get there early: Pre-show music, under the direction of Paul Amiel.
• Brush up your Kafka: Read "Metamorphosis" at goo.gl/Mg0q and "A Report to an Academy," on which "Kafka's Monkey" is based, is at wordswithoutborders.org/article/a-report-to-an-academy