Kafka and Son is that type of solo biographical stage drama that proliferates at the Fringe: conscientious, clearly well-researched… and (whisper it) a bit dull.
Co-created and acted by Alon Nashman, Canadian theatre company Theaturtle’s show dramatises a letter written by famed surrealist German writer, Franz Kafka, then 36, to his father. In it, Kafka rails against the tyrannical parent who terrified him as a child and still looms fearfully over his life and work. This letter is his self-examination.
You can’t deny Nashman’s commitment as he stalks Pleasance’s Bunker 1 studio space, his face agonised and hands fully wrung as Kafka Jr. or, playing his bellicose father, a snorting picture of fury. He's not phoning it in.
This production would benefit from the dark, playful ambiguity that is Kafka’s hallmark. But Nashman’s co-creator and director Mark Cassidy’s staging—all exposed bed springs, wire cages and black feathers—teeters unselfconsciously on the edge of self-parody. The show’s brief flashes of humour are bogged down by its weighty sincerity.
And, by God, the list of Kafka’s grievances with dear dad is exhaustive here. From Judaism, to sex, to marriage, it’s endless. The fraught relationship between fathers and sons is a key thread running through Kafka’s work, from The Trial to The Metamorphosis. But rather than illuminating this, Kafka and Son smothers it in plodding biography.
While this is a fitfully interesting production, it ultimately reduces Kafka to an ominously-lit Wikipedia entry. We’re left, sadly, with a portrait of the artist as a bit of whinger.