Drama A harrowing tale of father and son

A harrowing tale of father and son

In November 1919, at the age of 36, Franz Kafka wrote a letter to his father, Hermann, describing at length and in tragic detail the many ways in which their relationship had harmed him. He gave the letter to his mother, Julie, to pass on; she refused and returned it to him. The 47-page letter eventually found its way to Kafka’s friend Max Brod, who inherited the author’s manuscripts after his death in 1924, and published it 22 years later. This bit of literary history forms the basis of Mark Cassidy and Alon Nashman’s superb Kafka and Son.

Alon Nashman from Theaturtle/Threshold, Richard Jordan Productions, performs in ‘Kafka and Son’ at St. Andrew’s Hall, Somerset Street, Grahamstown, 07 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival.  ‘Kafka and Son’ was adapted from Franz Kafka’s ‘Letters To his father’ by mark Cassady and alon Nashman. It was choreographed by Claudia Moore and Directed by Mark Cassady. Photo: CuePix/Pearla Berg.

Alon Nashman from Theaturtle/Threshold, Richard Jordan Productions, performs in ‘Kafka and Son’ at St. Andrew’s Hall, Somerset Street, Grahamstown, 07 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. ‘Kafka and Son’ was adapted from Franz Kafka’s ‘Letters To his father’ by mark Cassady and alon Nashman. It was choreographed by Claudia Moore and Directed by Mark Cassady. Photo: CuePix/Pearla Berg.

Adapting Kafka for stage is risky: his writing derives much of its power by winding in on itself, locking down the alienation and despair that Kafka’s output has become synonymous with (ergo “Kafkaesque”). Passages can be destroyed by heavy edits, or if removed from the scaffolding of the broader text. Cassidy and Nashman – Canadians who have returned to Grahamstown for a second time with this Fringe production – remain true to the original, making only the smallest of edits while trimming its length.

The resulting performance, augmented by sparse props and exhilarating acting, is harrowing and bleak.

Nashman, the play’s sole actor, greets us as Kafka, sitting down at a desk strewn with black feathers and starting to write. “Dearest Father,” he reads out. “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.” He speaks his way through the letter for the rest of the performance, occasionally switching character from Franz, the writer, and Hermann, the father to whom it is addressed. It is a long, iterative list of accusations and apologies, expressing the deep anguish and confusion of a boy, now a man, whose father has ignored, bullied, and relentlessly criticised him.

Nashman’s Franz is timid, stooping, wounded; as Hermann he is brash and defensive. The decision to portray both men sets up a dialogue of sorts – Franz speaking for himself, Herman speaking as Franz sees him – that shows, where the letter tells, how completely the men have grown estranged from one other. Both feel hurt and misunderstood. Both wish that they could make things better. And like so many fathers and sons, both seem powerless to do things differently, when in reality they aren’t.

St. Andrew’s Hall,
9 July, 2.30pm

Kimon de Greef
Cue specialist writer

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