Dark, ironic, desperate, humorous… Dear Lord, the theatre world needs Kafka’s Ape to exist – its innovative ideas on comfortable seating for a devoted audience is only the start.
Kafka’s Ape is an adaptation of Kafka’s short story “A Report to the Academy” and it keeps much of the original writing. Redpeter (Howard Rosenstein) is an ape imprisoned by humans who gradually absorbs their ways in order to escape his prison, only to wind up alienated, depressed, and apparently alcoholic. In the original story, the ape, named Redpeter, becomes part of a variety act. In the play, he becomes part of Greywater (Greywater, like the privately owned provider of military power Blackwater… geddit?) – shit just got real. I like the twist – it puts a whole lot more bite into the tragedy of this story. Speaking of bite, I am assuming that those fangs are part of the Redpeter costume, rather than proof that Rosenstein is actually Edward Cullen’s far more attractive uncle. So how on earth is he managing to speak through them, and still maintain that sexy smooth baritone? Va va voom!
At the edge of the stage were lovely round tables that we were invited to sit at. There’s something wonderfully intimate and disarming about being able to rest your head on your hands during a theatre piece, rather than sitting rigidly to attention in the pews. Being a girl of simple pleasures, I’m already having a ball at this point.
When our two main apes appeared, the first thing I noticed was the fabulous costume design, immediately followed by how perfectly the two actors both mastered ape movement. As the play progressed, however, I found that the most disconcertingly bestial thing about Rosenstein was his gaze. He looked every audience member in the eye, long and hard, with an intensity usually only found in wild animals. We were instantly sucked in, not even knocked back to reality by the surreal jokes that usually only got a smattering of laughter. The awkwardness, rather than jolting us back to reality, only thickened the atmosphere.
Alexandra Montagnese was stunning playing Redpeter’s ape wife – she picked fleas, howled, ambled around. At the beginning of the play, she left the stage to sit with the audience, and stayed either there or in some corner of the room almost all the way through. I kept watching her out of the corner of my eye, thinking, “Where are they going with her?” Turns out, they weren’t going anywhere. She was just there. Her just being an ape, while Redpeter talked and joked to entertain the audience, made the chasm between his current existence and his previous one even wider.
When the show ended, we resurfaced slowly, feeling contentedly exhausted and duly impressed. Despite the strong messages about society, the play didn’t at any point feel contrived (or, not to put too fine a point on it, preachy). It turned an outlandish concept into something deeply personal and thoroughly engrossing. And if that won’t convince you to jump up and buy tickets, may I remind you: that baritone. Cue Bruno Mars’ Gorilla.
Kafka’s Ape is at Bain St. Michel from Nov 7-24th, playing Tuesday to Saturday 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. $25