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Kafka and Son
reviewed by Mary Brennan
August 27, 2010
Alon Nashman’s bleak and utterly compelling Kafka and Son has an intensely pulverising effect even on those of us who didn’t have bullying, authoritarian fathers. This is the nightmare territory of adults projecting their values, ambitions, frailties and failures onto their children. Then blaming them when, almost inevitably, they don’t conform to expectations.
Even in his thirties, the writer Franz Kafka couldn’t escape the tyranny of his father’s contempt. He filtered it into his fiction, as if words could exorcise it but to no avail. Kafka senior, the overbearing self-made man, effectively emasculated his only son.
Nashman seamlessly serves up both sides of this story. As Kafka senior, he looms larger than life – all bluff and hearty even when shredding Franz’s fragile self-esteem. As Franz, he seems to shrivel into half his size and become a nervy waif who nonetheless recounts his tribulations with an unexpected comic flair. Again, like Gurney-Randall’s Mussolini, the sheer finesse of the performance demands your applause. Nashman pulls you right into the entrails of a mental abuse that makes your heart pound and your skin crawl. The relief of walking out into daylight makes you know how brilliant he is.
Kafka and Son
“Dearest Father,” Kafka wrote in a letter to his father Hermann in 1919, “You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you… And if I now try to give you an answer in writing, it will still be very incomplete…”
The fifty-page letter never reached Hermann, who outlived his son by seven years. Now it is brought to life in an imaginative new adaptation for stage by Canadian companies Theaturtle and Threshold Theatre, as a monologue for Alon Nashman.
Stylistically sublime, ‘Kafka and Son’ is theatrically outstanding. We first meet Nashman as the timorous, insecure Franz, writing the above opening words. His desk: a bed of black feathers atop a small cage, his words: the same feathers as they rained through the mesh as he writes. Nashman then effortlessly morphs into father Hermann, whose guttural, sickly laugh makes the audience as uneasy as Franz. As the latter recounts how crushing an effect his father’s influence has had on him, the monochrome minimalistic set morphs as seamlessly as Nashman into a dining room, an iron bed into a cubicle, all the time the black feathers the central prop. The lighting, which eerily casts a monstrously towering shadow of Hermann as he leers at his inferior offspring, or illuminates a single white feather as Franz discusses his failed proposals, is used to sensational effect.
This is intense theatre. Accompanied by brilliantly emotive jewish folk music, Nashman compellingly, with a dark energy that never waivers, details the paternal episodes which have dogged his life ever since: his father’s body, work, Judaism, marriage.
“As usual,” Kafka wrote, “I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking.” Nevertheless, Nashman’s attempt through monologue is worthy of the countless accolades he has hitherto been awarded in Canada. An inspired performance, and a remarkable piece of theatre.
Reviewed by Sacha Timaeus 22/08/2010
The Best £12 I’ve Never Spent
by Oscar Q. Berry
August 15, 2010
Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883, after his death fourty years later his novels have become some of the most influential and extensive work of the 20th century. We join this production as Kafka sits, poised to begin a fifty page letter to his overbearing father Hermann. This shouldn’t bode well for an evening of entertaining theatre.
However Alon Nashman’s performance is spell-binding. The audience are taken through a physical tornado of story telling that recalls some of Kafka’s most haunting, charming and moving memories. Even the obvious limitations of performing a one-man show are skilfully avoided, I genuinely didn’t wish for another actor to appear once. Nashman’s characters are funny, detailed and absolutely truthful.
The whole production is flawless really; the set (Marysia Bucholc and Camellia Koo), the lights (Andrea Lundy) and the sound design (Darren Copeland) are worth the ticket price alone.
Director Mark Cassidy has created something of real tangible beauty – it actually doesn’t matter if you know nothing of Kafka or his writing – simply sit back and enjoy. The attention to detail in the staging and stagecraft shown through Nashman is staggering.
I can’t stop thinking about this show.
Kafka And Son
Theaturtle/ Threshold Theater
Adapted from Franz Kafka’s writings, this haunting one-man piece follows the writer as he attempts to understand his turbulent relationship with his dominating father. From its outset, the play displays eerie and haunting undertones, highlighted by the well chosen music. The ingenious use of set items such as a cage, metal fencing and a rusty bed frame mirror the vision of Kafka’s entrapment presented in the script: imprisoned by the fear he felt for his father. Alon Nashman delivered a stunning performance, embodying the physically weak, yet intellectually resilient Kafka with every movement. In addition, Nashman’s portrayal of Kafka’s father, which included a dramatic voice change and exceptional lighting, really brought the conflict between the two men to life.
Bedlam Theatre, 6 – 28 Aug (not 16,17), 2.30pm, £10.00 – £12.00, fpp 263.
tw rating 4/5
THEATER REVIEW The art of being an artist
Alon Nashman’s one-man play envisions the intimate dialogue between Franz Kafka and Kafka’s father
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR
August 4, 2010
Kafka and Son
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
August 8-28, 2010
“You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking.”
Thus begins Franz Kafka’s 45-page letter to his father Hermann, published posthumously as his Brief an den Vater (Letter to the Father). It is a rare piece — timid yet frank, where Kafka is usually bluntly surreal. Kafka, despite his reputation as an artist after death, was an insurance clerk and bureaucrat in life, and the letter reads like a legal report: calculated, exact, each word tempering the prior, riposting an anticipated parry, and flinching at invisible strokes. He’s at first much more equivocal than we’re used to — the artist unsure whether to accuse or forgive, worried equally that he will say too little as well as too much.
Is it art? It’s hard to deny the sincerity and depth of feeling. Many might empathize with the then middle-aged Kafka and his resilient father-issues. But we are not the intended audience. Kafka gave the letter to his mother to deliver to his father, but she only returned it to her son. Four years later, Franz Kafka would die of tuberculosis at the age of forty. It is, then, an unfinished symphony. We are and will always be left without the voice of Hermann Kafka, just as Franz Kafka was left without any reconciliation with his father. We, the readers, end our symphony mid-cadence.
Enter Alon Nashman. Coming off the success of Howl (based off the famous Ginsberg poem), and with the encouragement and cooperation of director Mark Cassidy, Nashman set out to bring this relatively obscure work to the stage. His task is in one sense simple; Nashman (in a chance encounter between he and I in the Fringe members room) remarked that “the letter already had a theatrical structure,” wherein “the father, by Kafka, is given the role of destroying all the arguments…”
Nashman is the sole performer, and he plays both the timid, wordy Franz and the loud, robust Hermann. His portrayal of Hermann is chilling, and we are reminded that we see a man through the lens of a child’s eyes — he is enlarged, grotesque. The stage is sparse, the lighting particular (we’re in a man’s mind, after all). Objects and their relations to each other follow laws other than physics. There’s a pen, two pages, a narrow bedframe — and feathers, all black, with one white.
The sound was notable. Taken from Golijov’s Yiddishbbuk (as performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet), and adapted for the production, it had a wonderfully Bergian quality. Golijov himself wrote the piece as a tribute to Kafka, so it’s in particularly good faith in its present state.
There is a refreshing dynamism about the performance. While utterly depressing in one regard, Kafka manages to draw hope from horror, and Nashman follows suit. The symbolism of the white feather as Nashman pens the end of Kafka’s entreaty is not lost on the audience. Kafka ends on a note of strength, and of love. This is a play not only of disjunction, but of the power of the human spirit.
Note that this is a one-man play for a reason. The format affords Nashman much greater power and flexibility over the emotional tenor. Nashman likened it to “the big skate at the olympics…the long breath to sustain.” Some one-man shows are formed out of casting budget cuts, but the particular case of Kafka’s letter translate particularly well here. For the true actor, the story is not only of the character but of themselves. Through Nashman we see Kafka, and through Kafka we see Nashman. This is the peculiar office of theater — the odd Hegelian dialectic of script and reader — but it is particularly profound when there is one man to read one letter. The “team” aspect is removed. There are no safeties, for either man, and the struggle for human communication becomes like an arena match. I cannot say who is gladiator and who is beast. Each is both, in their way.
Some of this relationship is private — intimate lovers broadcast their all-telling nothings in whispers, not shouts — but I do think that an attentive audience will see the feeling that’s there. I did, and I suspect that I’m not alone. I admit that this is a piece that grew on me more after the performance than during, but that is how I like my art.
Kafka ends his letter:
“…this whole rejoinder — which can partly also be turned against you—does not come from you, but from me. Not even your mistrust of others is as great as my self-mistrust, which you have bred in me. I do not deny a certain justification for this rejoinder, which in itself contributes new material to the characterization of our relationship. Naturally things cannot in reality fit together the way the evidence does in my letter; life is more than a Chinese puzzle. But with the correction made by this rejoinder — a correction I neither can nor will elaborate in detail — in my opinion something has been achieved which so closely approximates the truth that it might reassure us both a little and make our living and our dying easier.”
Perhaps by Kafka’s living and dying — and now by Nashman’s living — our lives, if not the Kafkas’, are made easier.
Theaturtle and Threshold Theatre
Kafka and Son
Bedlam Theatre | Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Outside Bedlam (rather fittingly) there is a man in a cage giving out flyers. His son sits on top playing the violin. He is promoting his show, Kafka and Son, which comes with very high ratings from across Canada. Fortunately, Alon Nashman’s approach to theatre-making is as imaginative and convincing as his promotional technique.
The play is adapted and directed by Mark Cassidy from Franz Kafka’s ‘Letter to His Father’, written in 1919 but never sent. It provides a brilliant insight into Kafka’s personality and a context for stories such as ‘The Trial’, ‘The Castle’ and ‘Metamorphosis’.
Performing solo, Nashman creates, with care, two very distinctive characters: the senior Kafka, an imperious shop-keeper, a bully to his staff and his family; and his cowed son, insecure, sickly and desperate for love. The Letter offers episodes from Franz’s life on which his father’s influence has been most cruelly felt. Scenes at the dinner table, the swimming pool, at bedtime and in the synagogue are vividly portrayed in a performance that is vocally and physically strong. The father’s attitude and language, his bulk and his ability to belittle and terrorize his son are painful to witness.
Simple props are used to great effect. A bare metal-spring bed, a cage and a frame become all manner of settings. Mounds of black feathers provide food, pens and weather. Franz was hugely troubled about sex, and his ‘inability to marry’ despite three attempts, with three different women, contributes to the physical and psychological ailments which dog his short life. Needless to say, his father’s advice on how to overcome this inability renders Franz speechless with horror. The women are beautifully represented by one large white quill, a beam of light on an otherwise suitably monochrome stage.
A key moment in the text and a stunning part of the play is when Nashman’s narration changes from the voice of Franz to his father. This Nashman accomplishes with panache – the voice becomes bigger, deepens; a giant shadow is cast on the back wall.
Kafka means jackdaw. The final image, in which Franz exchanges black feathers for white wings and takes flight, little knowing he will become one of the twentieth centuries most influential novelists, resonates.
Kafka and Son
Liz Nicholls, Edmonton Journal
Published: Friday, August 17, 2007
You’ve got to wonder about the dark and labyrinthine mind that created The Trial and The Castle, and thought up Gregor Samsa, who woke to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach.
This brilliant little solo show takes you there, via the 50-page letter to his father, airing his manifold grievances, that Franz Kafka never sent. It doesn’t take a theatre artist, of course, to air the news that Kafka didn’t have a happy boyhood, especially since his diaries and letters have a direct pipeline to the pathologies of the 20th century psyche. Fascinating details notwithstanding, that’s not what Kafka And Son, adapted by actor Alon Nashman and director Mark Cassidy, is about, in the end.
What happens onstage is, thrillingly, of the theatre: it’s a fantasia on a thorny father-son relationship realized in ingenious stage imagery, and shedding an eerie light on an enigmatic artist in the process. In a double performance of extreme and precise virtuosity, Nashman is both the frustrated writer locked into a dreary life as a petty bureaucrat, a notable failure with women and still living at home at age 36, and the harsh, overbearing tyrant of a father who terrorizes him, demeans him, and is, in an agonizing way, his doppelganger, his doom and his muse. “My writing,” says Franz quietly, “is all about you.”
The design, unusually complex for a Fringe show, is an expressionist nightmare of interlocking cages, shafted by stark light and dark shadows. The much-abused term Kafka-esque does not go amiss here. There are images of flight, there’s a rain of black feathers like so much volcanic ash. And there’s Nashman, across whose slight frame and delicate features, pass a whole world of nightmares.
Edmonton and Saskatoon
August 23 to 30, 2007, Eva Marie Clarke
Kafka & Son
Clotted black feathers, a white plume, a spinning silvery cage, a grating, rasping chuckle—each is a brushstroke in a horrifically beautiful nightmare. Alon Nashman, in this adaptation of Franz Kafka’s letter to his domineering father, never stoops to sentimentality in this memorable performance. Kafka senior might be a hypocritical bully, but the bookish son is self-righteously parasitic. That uneasy tension flavours much of this unsettling production imbuing Kafka’s words with the echoing rattle of a pebble tossed into an abyss of inarticulate love between two disparate personalities. Chilling, unexpectedly, grotesquely funny at times, Kafka & Son is pure, unadulterated, surreal goodness.
March 16, 2006 By JON KAPLAN
Alon Nashman shines as Kafka And Son
KAFKA AND SON adapted by Mark Cassidy and Alon Nashman from Franz Kafka, directed by Cassidy (Theaturtle/Threshold) Rating: NNN
Kafka and Son solidly enshrines the archetypal antagonism between fathers and sons. Director Mark Cassidy’s and actor Alon Nashman ‘s adaptation of an unsent letter from Franz Kafka to his difficult (and probably to a degree fictionalized) progenitor, the piece is filled with grim humour as well as some devastating personal anecdotes and perceptions about the relationship.
The father, with a derisively gurgling laugh, seems to disparage everything his diffident 36-year-old son does or wants to do, from his writing to his desire to marry.
Words like “disgrace,” “shame,” “fear” and “anguish” pop up regularly in the letter. No wonder the son flees any association with his father, including his business and religion, yet can’t escape the commanding elder’s control.
Nashman conjures up both central figures, physicalizing them splendidly. The father fills his chest and reaches out to take up space, his deep voice dominating the stage; the son shrinks into himself, the space around him turning airless, his voice complaining and thin.
The design is equally striking. Andrea Lundy ‘s razor-sharp lighting and Camellia Koo ‘s adaptation of Marysia Bucholc ‘s set marked by cages and black feathers suggestive of ashes tell their own tale of entrapment. Darren Copeland ‘s soundscape is often eerily dissonant, though an occasional klezmer melody suggests a rare moment of happier times.
Kafka and Son brilliantly realized
Robert Cushman, National Post
Published: Saturday, March 11, 2006
Kafka and Son is a thrilling adaptation of an unmailed letter from the novelist to his overbearing father, whom he blames or credits for making him the incredibly influential wreck he was.
“You’re a true Kafka,” he tells his dad, “in loudness and in presence of mind”; the term “Kafkaesque” obviously meant different things back then.
Its more familiar connotations are brilliantly realized in Mark Cassidy’s production, which situates young Franz, menacingly lit and mostly in a fetal position, in one makeshift cage after another, with a slanting overhead grille completing the effect.
Alon Nashman’s performance of both roles is flawless, vocally, physically and imaginatively: what, in light of Kafka Junior’s tortured timidity, you might call a tour de faiblesse.
Kafka and Son runs through March 18 at the Al Green Theatre, 416-504-7529.
Kafka and Son Towers Over Fringe
MATT RADZ, The Gazette Montreal, June 11, 2007
A content-rich, brilliantly realized monodrama like Alon Nashman’s Kafka and Son can’t help but tower over the Fringe, an event always more eager to embrace the anarchic spirit of cabaret and vaudeville than submit to the strict discipline of legit theatre. Directed by co-writer Mark Cassidy for Toronto’s Theaturtle/Threshold company, the hour-long play dramatizes a soul scorching letter one of the pillars of modern literature composed, but did not in fact send to his overbearing father. The piece explores the filial pain, suggesting that it had triggered Kafka’s prophetic sense of existential despair. Nashman has created, with great care, two very distinctive characters: the senior Kafka, an imperious clerk of little account, and his cowed son, a timid, reluctant titan who blazed the surreal paths 20th century literature would follow. Playgoers soon feel the frustration of a young man’s attempt to solve the fractious father/son equation. Like all serious theatre, Kafka and Son uses simple props to great effect. A bare metal-spring bed, a cage, a white quill pen and mounds of black feathers supply potent symbols of the writer’s metamorphosis. And Nashman’s fully committed, physical performance traces its emotional path from caged frustration to the the desperate, final flight toward art’s timeless promise of freedom.
Fringe ripe with excellence
By DENIS ARMSTRONG
Ottawa Sun, Wed. June 20, 2007
Kafka and Son
Sun Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of the indisputable hits at this year’s fest is Alon Nashman’s one-man drama. The Toronto-based actor was an audience favourite when he played the notary in the NAC’s hit production, Scorched, in February. Both he and director Mark Cassidy adapted Kafka’s Letter to his Father as a touching testimonial about the self-loathing son of a bullying patriarch. Performed to perfection by Nashman, Kafka and Son illuminates the tormented spirit of Kafka’s writings with breathtaking imagery and just the right amount of emotional chemistry. Family dynamics has rarely been so horrifyingly clear.
Kafka and Son “Took My Breath Away!”
ALVINA RUPRECHT, CBC Radio Ottawa, June 18, 2007
ALVINA: The best show I’ve seen at the Fringe is Theaturtle and Threshhold Theater’s production called Kafka and Son, a monologue featuring Alon Nashman. The performance took my breath away. This play from Toronto is ready to go on stage at the NAC – as is. It’s perfect.
HOST: So, if there is one show people must see, this is it?
ALVINA: Absolutely. It’s based on a letter that Kafka wrote to his father (adapted for the stage by Nashman and by director Mark Cassidy) and shows us Kafka playing out his own imaginary dialogue with his father. We see how Kafka perceived his father as a monstrously domineering creature who humiliated him, who destroyed all his emotional and spiritual relationships with the world. The image of the father-son relationship is horrendous. And it also shows how Kafka exorcised this monster through his writing. So, this performance actually helps to understand Kafka’s novel The TRIAL. Because you understand that the looming shadow of anonymous persecution that haunts the character K in the Trial is in fact the ever-present father figure that hangs over the young man like a palpable disaster.
HOST: Sounds very powerful. What did it look like on stage?
ALVINA: Because of a very close collaboration between actor, director, musical design, lighting and set, it looked like one if those expressionist movies with the actor projecting his inner turmoil in exaggerated gestures, in a face that was transformed into a mask of 100 expressions enhanced by stark spotlights, immense shadows looming against the backdrop and crashing music that shocked the actor into reacting. The wire and metal constructions on stage had the actor caught in twisted cages, locked behind bars, enclosed into prisons and then we see him …liberating himself from these wire structures like a bird frantically trying to fly away…and then there were those feathers!…but I say no more…Go see this, It is brilliant!
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday March 8, 2006
Enough to make a father proud
Kafka and Son
Adapted by Mark Cassidy
and Alon Nashman
Directed by Mark Cassidy
Performed by Alon Nashman
At the Al Green Theatre in Toronto
In adapting Franz Kafka’s Letter to His Father to the stage, director Mark Cassidy and actor Alon Nashman charge full steam ahead into a literary cottage industry that has been seeking contexts for understanding the writer’s life and work ever since his death in 1924.
There are those who argue that the archetypal nature of Kafka’s stories suggests an historical reading that aligns them with fables and fairy tales. More historically informed critics and biographers situate his fiction within the political and social movements of late 19th-century central Europe, a period of rising nationalism and anti-Semitism. Others see Kafka as the quintessential writer of Prague, where he was born, worked, wrote and spent most of his 40, tormented years on Earth.
All these contexts have probably influenced the German-speaking, Jewish author of The Metamorphosis and The Trial to some significant degree or another, but Cassidy and Nashman suggest that his relationship with his tyrant father trumps all else. Franz Kafka is his father’s son, as this letter, written in 1919 but never sent, makes clear. The title of their adaptation, which gives father precedence over son, should have been our first clue.
It’s not necessarily a new revelation — and Kafka himself confesses in his letter that all his writing has been about his father — but the strength of their argument, for our purposes here in the drama department, lies in its intellectually convincing, sparing and startling theatricality. The adaptation, for example, excises all other characters from the Kafka household (the three sisters in particular who figure somewhat prominently in the original) to enhance the stifling one-on-one, father-son dynamic.
This seemingly constrictive premise proves liberating to Nashman and Cassidy, who then use other minimalist means to examine this relationship and hint at the way it resurfaced in the writing. Andrea Lundy’s daringly subtle lighting scheme, for example, underscores the darkly world of Kafka’s psyche and isolates him from his environment in precisely projected pools of light. Cassidy then guides Nashman in crafting a complex performance of a man imprisoned — literally so in Camellia Koo’s set design of animal cages and metal bed frames — by his father’s long shadow, while trying, futilely, to break away from it. Confessional letters usually have a static, I-blame-you rhythm, but both the original missive and this adaptation presuppose a dialogue and a struggle — hence its dramatic nature.
There’s also a fine line between the father as a tyrant — and one full of fascinating contradictions and loathing for his Jewish roots at that — and as a monster or ogre. What makes Nashman’s performance a humanist treat are those moments of humour and empathy he finds and accentuates in Kafka’s writing about his father. A scene in which a young Franz Kafka is both “weighed down” and “proud” of his father’s physical presence while swimming together points to the complicated exchange between the two.
Nashman, an actor of nebbish looks and a versatile but lanky body, conveys the requisite strength and vulnerability in this one scene so expertly that you almost forget this is the same performer, more or less at the same moment. It’s also a scene that introduces and exposes Kafka’s and the period’s own anti-Semitic anxieties about the frailty of the Jewish male body as a sign of weakness and disease.
It is, above all, a moment of transformation or, in Kafkaesque terms (you knew I was going to use that word sooner or later), metamorphosis — of a private anguish to a public one and of a sprawling letter to a tightly knit drama of a father-and-son relationship that’s both familiar and unlike any other.
Kafka and Son continues at Toronto’s Al Green Theatre until March 18 (416-504-7529).
July 16, 2007
Kevin Prokosh, reviewer
KAFKA AND SON ★★★★★
The Czech-born novelist Franz Kafka was tormented by feelings of inferiority and persecution nurtured by a domineering, psychologically-abusive father. He famously outlined at length his grievances in his unsent 1919 Letter to his Father, which is the basis for this haunting and visually arresting monodrama Kafka and Son. Toronto actor and co-adaptor Alon Nashman is brilliant as both the timid, physically slight author of such ground-breaking works as The Metamorphosis and The Trial as well as his cold, imposing, raspy-voiced dad. Director and co-adaptator Mark Cassidy deftly ushers viewers into a tortured soul desperate to escape crippling self-hatred and a father’s shadow. There are few fringe productions as fully realized as Kafka and Son in matching its weighty material with both mood and look. The stage is bathed in depressing monotones and outfitted with symbolic props — a bare metal-spring bed, a cage and piles of black feathers. The letter has been called a road map to unravelling Kafka’s writing while this play transports viewers on a memorable theatrical journey into one of 20th century literature’s most troubled minds.
Dominated by Daddy
Franz Kafka struggles under his overbearing father in this excellent production.
KAFKA AND SON — FIVE SUNS
By COLIN MACLEAN, EDMONTON SUN FREELANCE
Published Friday, August 17, 2007
Franz Kafka turns up at the Fringe these nights.
Unprepossessing, dressed in the grey suit of the clerk he was in life, he begins, “Dearest Father … ”
And what unfolds is a conversation between the slight, sickly writer of such classics as The Trial, In the Penal Colony and The Metamorphosis and his robust monster of a soul-devouring father.
Such is Alon Nashman’s writing and intense performing ability (and his seemingly intimate knowledge of Kafka) that we believe what follows is the truth – even if much of it is based on an undelivered letter that the author wrote to his father at the age of 36.
Kafka Sr. was a big man in every way with an overbearing personality. While other Jews were being persecuted and driven out of Prague, he ran a successful business.
His son was the opposite and carried a feeling of inadequacy all his life. In Kafka and Son, the father never misses an opportunity to belittle his son, his conversation dripping with sarcasm and animosity. His interference continued even when Franz moved away – his father hated his writing and opposed his marriage, which Franz cancelled at the last moment. Through their correspondence, we begin to see the oppression that drove Franz mentally inward into the bizarre, surreal world that forms the basis of his stories.
What an actor Nashman is. True to the character, he holds his emotions in tight control while subtly revealing the pain. There are silent moments when Franz loses it and we see, in a shaft of revelation, how deep the man’s agony is.
There is a striking difference between the two characters – played by the same actor.
The father is big, his head high, chest thrust out, filling the stage, his voice a ringing baritone with a derisive laugh. Franz is small, squashed and repressed with a thin voice barely above a whine. The simple staging also reinforces the power of the play.
The actor fingers black feathers showing the darkness of his spirit. A metal bed becomes a prison.
There is also an austere humour to the work as well as intimations of happier family times.
The music is expressive, ranging from the happy sound of klezmer to jagged atonality.
The play ends in a powerful dramatic image, as the archetypal antagonism of the father morphs into the haunted writings of the son.
Thursday August 9, 2007
Kafka and Son
reviewed by Michelle Martin
St. James Basement
Brilliant. Powerful. Spellbinding. These words of commendation are well deserved to Alon Nashman for his dark psychological drama that transports its audience into the depths of a disturbed mind.
On stage, Nashman embodies Franz Kafka, one of the most highly regarded writers of the 20th century, as he ponders his damaged relationship with his overbearing father.
The monologue is an adaptation of Kafka’s unmailed letter to his father, in which he attempts to rationalize the effect his father has had on his life. His father’s dominant personality is like an ever-tightening noose around Franz’s neck, choking away his chances at happiness.
It isn’t a rant, nor is it an hour of whining, but rather an intellectually stimulating show with historical roots that don’t require a background in Kafka to appreciate and themes transcend time and place.
However, Kafka connoisseurs are likely to be some of the most awestruck.
In a league of its own, the show isn’t for everybody. It will only move those willing to open up to the experience. Nashman’s seamless delivery, however, makes total absorption difficult to resist.
The show’s dark tone is set not only with props, including mounds of dark feathers and cages, but also through lighting, use of shadows and classical music.
The combined effect is a performance that you don’t just watch so much as one that you are overcome by.
Serious theatre-goers seeking more than a laugh from their Fringe experience will not be disappointed.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007
Desperately seeking dad
By KATHY RUMLESKI
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
“Dearest Father,” Franz Kafka writes, but there is nothing dear about dad.
Those words start the play Kafka and Son and the letter, from the brilliant German writer to his tyrannical father and on which the show is based, show the longing at the centre of Kafka’s soul to connect.
Actor Alon Nashman portrays father and son in a stunning London Fringe presentation at the McManus Studio.
Nashman explores the heart-breaking letter Kafka wrote to his father, but never sent.
“Even in writing, the fear and consequences hamper me in relation to you.”
While Nashman works with cages to show the psychological, mental and eventual physical prison (due to poor health) that Kafka was trapped in, we also see the longing in his face to be loved, to be accepted.
He writes of breaking free, but he really wants to be one with his father.
The irony is aching.
Kafka at times makes excuses for his father, who threatens to tear him apart like a fish.
“The effect you had on me was an effect you couldn’t help having,” he writes.
Nashman tears at the black feathers — and we hear of Kafka’s father plucking chickens till his fingers bled — and up rises the dust in the light.
To dust he will return.
Nashman is in complete command of his performance. Even the feathers obey as one sticks to his face and he uses it to show his father eating and snapping a bone as Nashman bites the feather shaft.
There is effective use of light and shadow throughout, showing that Kafka only considered himself to be a shadow of his father, who was physically and mentally tough.
At the end of the show, when he is sitting down and writing, the shadow on the back curtain appears to be that of a child. Kafka, despite being 36, is reduced to a scared, helpless child when it comes to his father.
Is the 60-minute show too much torment to bear? Perhaps in some ways. But we get to see the brilliance of Kafka that was able to shine through and still shines through his writing and in the phrases he uses in the letter.
That brilliance — and the fluttering man/bird we see on stage and in the shadow at the end of the performance — gives us all hope that he did break free and we can, too.
If you go
What: Kafka & Son
When: Tonight, 9 p.m.; Friday, 5 p.m., Saturday 10 p.m.
Where: The McManus Studio at the Grand, 471 Richmond St.
Ticket: $9 at the door or purchase in advance online at www.londonfringe.ca
Rating: 4.5 (out of five)
March 16, 2006
On Stage by CHRISTOPHER HOILE
KAFKA AND SON
Featuring Alon Nashman. Written by Mark Cassidy & Alon Nashman. Directed by Mark Cassidy. Presented by Theaturtle/Threshold Theatre/Miles Nadal JCC.
Many of us have, at some time, wanted to tell our parents exactly what we think of them and how they have ruined our lives. Franz Kafka, author of The Trial, did this in 1919, when he wrote his “Letter to His Father.” He didn’t send it, but it remains a document central not only to understanding Kafka, but, because of his keen insight, to understanding the alienation that can exist between any two people or between mankind and creator.
Mark Cassidy and Alon Nashman have adapted the “Letter” as an hour-long play. As Kafka, Nashman is superb at conveying the exact tone of the letter. This is not a rant or an emotional plea but an attempt to analyze as rationally as possible how a father’s very nature has led a son to feel worthless and to expect failure in all areas of life. As Kafka’s father, Nashman justly shows us boor and petty tyrant but not a monster.
Paradoxically, Kafka reconstructs with words, as with the set of wire boxes and grills, the very prison he is trying to escape. While Darren Copeland’s sound design is overemphatic, Andrea Lundy’s highly inventive lighting reflects Kafka’s claustrophobic world where shadows threaten any glint of freedom.