Press-Republican

January 31, 2013

'Kafka's Ape' a show with many layers

By STEVEN HOWELL
Press-Republican

---- — MONTREAL — Infinitheatre brings an evolutionary, revolutionary take to the term “monkey business.”

Based on Franz Kafka’s short story “A Report to an Academy,” Infinitheatre presents “Kafka’s Ape” at Bain St. Michel for a three-week run. The work is adapted from the original German and directed by Infinitheatre artistic director Guy Sprung.

“Kafka’s Ape” is a satirical romp that stars Howard Rosenstein as a primate named Mr. Redpeter, who climbs both the corporate and evolutionary ladders. 

Sprung said Kafka’s work was first published in 1917.

“We know Kafka for his dire and dour look at the universe,” Sprung said. “And, in this case, he’s written a short story that has many layers to it.”

Of note, Sprung said, Kafka is talking about the stupidity of the human race, specifically during the time of World War I.

“He, being subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, witnessed the entire world go to war where millions of human beings are killing themselves for no rational reason.”

Kafka centered his story on a captured ape who gives a report to a learned academy.

“And the only way the ape could avoid being incarcerated was to become a human being,” Sprung said. “The irony is, and what Kafka on one major level is saying, is that this animal is more humane and has more sense than we humans. In describing his journey from apehood to humanhood, Kafka basically makes fun of human beings, period.”

In writing the work, Kafka took reference from father and son German zoo entrepreneurs Carl Hagenbeck Sr. and Carl Hagenbeck Jr. The elder Hagenbeck traveled the world during the late 1800s, capturing exotic animals and putting them on display. The younger Hagenbeck opened the Tierpark Hagenbeck in 1907, a zoo that stills exists today.

“Remember, the concept of the zoo was just newly formed at the time,” Sprung said, adding that not only animals were on display, but also humans. Hagenbeck Jr. even displayed members of the Samoan people. 

Sprung said the short story addresses the slave trade as well as “the latent anti-Semitism that Kafka experienced in the Prague that he grew up in.”

Sprung adapted the work so that instead of ape Redpeter reporting to an academy, he presents as a keynote speaker at a modern-day corporate shareholders’ meeting. The corporation at hand is called Graywater, a play on the former security-for-hire company once named Blackwater.

“The names are totally intentional,” Sprung said.

In the play, Graywater is a private militarized security company in the same vein as Blackwater, Halliburton and DynCorp.

“In essence, the outsourcing of war,” Sprung said. “Redpeter is now a corporate soldier. And he’s a very good one. He’s there to secure the universe for commerce.”

Sprung said the irony comes full circle. Kafka’s short story was titled “A Report to an Academy.”

“After incidents in Iraq, Blackwater conveniently changed their name,” Sprung said. “The company is now called Academi.”

Sprung said transforming on stage from ape to human makes for a very plum acting role.

“It’s a fabulous challenge for any actor,” he said.

Rosenstein plays Redpeter as “a walking, talking, spitting, hard-drinking” mercenary soldier, Sprung said.

“It’s a fascinating role. And it’s a steak dinner for Howard.”

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Kafka's Ape." WHEN: Show runs through Sunday, Feb. 17. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. WHERE: Bain St. Michel is at 5300 St. Dominique St., Montreal. ADMISSION: Tickets cost $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. Performances on Sunday, Feb. 3, are pay-what-you-can. CONTACT: Call (514) 987-1774, or visit www.infinitheatre.com.