Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Kafka's Ape

Howard Rosenstein (photo credit: Brian Morel)

Greywater’s Organ Grinder.
Hard Work and Obedience Will Set You Free.
by Nanette Soucy

The Bain St. Michel has been transformed into a conference room at the Hyatt. There are fancy LED footlights and black velvet backdrops and massive corporate banners and a chandelier of balloons. The only thing missing is wait staff serving drinks or dinner rolls to patrons, seated at eight foot tables draped with linens and topped with shiny centre pieces of wilted lilies.

Red Peter trundles onto the stage with a gait that’s hard to distinguish from an elderly man’s. He addresses the audience gathered in his honour with distinguished authority and a Carolina drawl. His lovely wife sits quietly in the front of the audience dolled up and dressed to the nines for the occasion. He enthusiastically imbibes an expensive vintage bottle of wine as he recounts his epic journey from the wilds to civilization, not sparing us the frathouse stories like the time he chugged a whole bottle of whiskey in a single gulp. His movements veer preternaturally towards the simian side of humanity. His tale is woven thick with poetry and buttoned with the sort of pungent boardroom humour that appeals to guys in suits. His memoir explains precisely why this corporate veteran is not just another suited hirsute captain of industry.

It is out of a desire for escape that his imitation of man made of him, over a short decade, a learned expert in his field.

Infinitheatre’s new production Kafka’s Ape is an adaptation of the eponymous writer’s short story, Report to an Academy, wherein an ape is kidnapped by an expedition on the west coast of Africa, taught to speak, and put to work at the bidding of his takers. The ape, as played with power and endurance by Howard Rosenstein and convincingly enhanced by the handiwork of make-up artist Vladimir Cara, realizes, shortly into his captivity, that in order to escape from his cage, he must behave as much as possible like the hairless apes outside it that are holding him. It is out of a desire for escape that his imitation of man made of him, over a short decade, a learned expert in his field. One which a human mind of similar experience could not parallel. His success has left him lonely and alienated, but not unhappy. His achievements have brought him a stylish condo, a well-stocked cellar, and a beautiful wife that reminds him of who he used to be. Not a bad deal, overall. 

Where Infinitheatre’s take on the tale differs, is that rather than becoming a seasoned performer for the entertainment of people as in Kafka’s story, Red Peter was captured and trained to be a special operative for a large corporate security firm. He works in the “peace and stability industry” -- He’s a retired mercenary. As security theatre has made reality stranger, daresay, kafkaesque, in the years since 9/11, it’s not difficult to link any one of Kafka’s works to modern day political goings on. The choice to make the ape a mercenary rather than an actor is at once a commentary on the theatrics of war, and perhaps an unintended but brilliant expression of the battles fought by performers in the execution of their duties. Hard work and obedience will set us free. Hard work and obedience will bring us that lonely, alienated success we can’t really complain about, but that still doesn’t quite permit us to fly on the trapeze of the trees.

Kafka’s Ape runs until February 17th

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