Friday, April 15, 2005

Kafka and Son

Saw Kafka and Son last night. It stars Alon Nashman and is part of the World Stage international theatre festival taking place in Toronto. I was enchanted and amazed – by Alon’s evocation of one of the 20th Centuries most tortured and brilliant souls. How was it Kafka wrote, so accurately, the script for the 20th Century? Some of the answer is definitely revealed, sadly, in his relationship with his father. There’s much more to that creative genius, of course. And, while based on the text of the Kafka’s 1919-written letter to his father, this play is a most wonderful onion – layers and layers for the peeling – revealing rich correspondences and avenues of meaning. The set is composed with a puppeteer’s sensibility (at least to my Bread & Puppet-trained eyes) with a metal bed frame, three metal cages (one a collapsible accordion contraption), and a backdrop that acts as a screen for occasional shadow-puppetry. Add to this the loud silence of tumbling black feathers and, of course, Alon’s Kafka and you have the picture. The play begins with Kafka at a black feather-covered desk/cage composing the letter. As he “writes”/recites the feathers flutter silently through the cage – casting a shadow of dark rain against the backdrop. I loved letting my mind play with the associations - the same way I love riddles: here we are, listening to these brilliant words, startlingly insightful about himself and his relationship with his father, composed for someone who would never read them. And so they fell, quietly, the way black feathers fall. And, yet, ironically, Kafka performed the alchemy of all art, the transformation of the base material of human experience (in this case, suffering) into the always-gold of art. The black feathers tumble, evoking a black bird (the jackdaw that the name “kavka” means?) that we see briefly in a few scenes of the shadow play, and I think of the magician/alchemist’s magical familiar or Poe’s prophetic raven. And like with Poe’s grim raven, I felt the weight of Kafka’s anguish hovering over his remarkable words, that I am sure he had little inkling would become part of the foundational literature of the 20th Century. Those of you in Toronto have a few more chances to see the play which is on tonight and tomorrow afternoon and evening – find out more at the World Stage site.

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