Tuesday, April 28, 2009

puppet KafKa (HERE Arts Center)

Drama of Works' puppet KafKa by B. Walker Sampson

By Kitty

BOTTOM LINE: You will be transformed and thankfully, not into a large bug.

The set of puppet KafKa looks like the inside of a dollhouse with a baby bed, a mini table and chairs, and a shrunken doorway through which splashes of red and white light spill onto the stage. The slow pull of a bow over strings can be heard as shadows move behind the paper-like walls and just as the music tucks into bed, Franz Kafka enters his writing room, accompanied by the force which makes his physical and mental movement possible: Jason Howard, an actor.

It is easy to forget there are actors present in Drama of Works' production of puppet KafKa. Each character-conveying device, from marionettes to wood-carved letters "K" and "F", to an empty suit and a broom-handed mop, speaks with such sincerity and moves with such intention that the actors become the vessels through which the people in the play communicate. Ideally, this should be a common occurance in every theatrical production from the puppet-populated to the marionette-minused. The characters should become so real to the audience that watching the play feels like an act of voyeurism, a secret look stolen through the key hole. puppet KafKa achieves this by assembling the most wonderfully creative and talented artists, cast and crew included, to explore the life of Franz Kafka, a Jewish writer from 1880s Prague, most famous for penning "The Metamorphosis" among other great works of literature.

Even though Kafka also authored such renowned pieces as "The Castle" and "The Judgment," he is most remembered for "The Metamorphosis." In it, we meet Gregor Samsa, a man who awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a large, roach-like insect. Samsa's physical reconstruction alienates him from his loved ones and his feelings of loneliness and hopelessness ultimately lead to his demise. It is believed that through Samsa, Kafka explored his feelings of separation and estrangement from his own family. The parallels are astonishing, from the similarities of Samsa's and Kafka's temperamental working-class fathers to their adoration of their youngest sisters. These likenesses are the focus and the emotional core of puppet KafKa and are beautifully revealed by B. Walker Sampson's touching script.

puppet KafKa is truly an inspiring piece of theatre. It is clear that every detail has been labored over, but not to the point of tedium. It's creative, inventive, and minus a few opening weekend technical snafus, flawlessly executed. The cast is stellar with notable performances by Scott Weber and Adam Sullivan. Weber, whose characterization of the Gregor-Bug from "The Metamorphosis," a character brought to life by what is essentially a single extravagantly embellished glove, is so remarkable that it can safely be said that Weber has more talent in one hand than some actors have in their whole being. Additionally, Sullivan sparkles as Prosecutor, an adult-sized empty suit operated by two splints shoved into the suit sleeves. It is amazing to watch Sullivan work as his suit's movements are so lifelike and individual to the character that as an audience member, one feels strange having been convinced that the suit, which is clearly not inhabited by a human body, is in fact, a real person.

(puppet KafKa performs through May 10th, at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue between Spring and Broome Streets...entrance on Dominick Street. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $18. Visit here.org for tickets and more information.)

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