by Adam Cohen
Who knew Franz Kafka was the first millennial? Here he is living at home at 36, struggling with his art and his relationships with women and his father. Actor Alon Nashman handles both roles – son and father – firmly, creating distinct personalities. His performance is mesmerizing and compelling. He is restrained without leaning into winsome or whine. Here’s a detailed look at a tortured artist’s mind and mania.
Kafka the author of “The Metamorphosis”, “The Trial”, “The Castle” and more is known for his isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. Over the course of his life, Kafka wrote hundreds of letters to family and close friends, including his father, with whom he had a strained and formal relationship. He became engaged to several women but never married. He died in 1924 at the age of 40 from tuberculosis. Those themes are firmly on display in Nashman’s capable hands.
When Kafka was 36 years old he was still living with his overbearing Father. To deal with their relationship and find peace with it, Kafka wrote letters to his family. The performer acts out the letter, exploring the nuances of their relationship with precision and anxiety. The performer jumps between the two with verve and menace and we see Kafka in an almost constant state of anxiety. He is nervous and fragile and wearily looks around the room while delivering his tense monologues. His father however is stern, upright and assertive. The two are polar opposites and this discord highlights Kafka’s inadequacies and his father’s arrogance.
The minimalist but evocative set design comes from Camelllia Koo and Marysia Bucolc. Kafka sits at a desk which is covered with feathers. There’s a bed with no mattress, a wire fence. This sense of tense, stark isolation is pungent. As he writes, feathers float to the ground. The effect is startling especially under Andrea Lundy’s lighting which captures the shadows of the falling – creating a tense mood and tone.
The show is being presented at the Soho Playhouse as part of their Fringe Encore series. It is a brave production bringing to life the mental state and journey of an author read and devoured by select liberal arts students – if there are any left. Nashman gives a brave performance. This treatise gives insight and new light of Kafka’s life and work. It is a compelling, well done engaging production worth seeking out.
2017 Fringe Encore Series – thru October 22nd.
Tickets and more information available at sohoplayhouse.com.