Kafka’s Ape soldiers on
An enjoyable satire on a serious subject done with artistry and humour
By Byron Toben
I have now seen Infinitheatre’s production of Kafka’s Ape four times and witnessed actor Howard Rosenstein’s portrayal of the character Redpeter grow increasingly layered with nuance and creditability.
The first time was at its 2013 inaugural showing at the Bain St-Michel.
The second was its 2015 inclusion in Toronto’s annual Summerworks Performance Festival.
The third was its revival at the Maison Cultural Mont Royal in 2016.
The fourth was its recent remounting at the Espace Knox.
Obviously, I have not gotten tired of this gem, which is an adaptation by director Guy Sprung of Franz Kafka’s 1917 short story Report to an Academy.
Kafka, unheralded in his own time, is now regarded as a literary giant, much as his painter contemporary, Modigliani, was unappreciated during his lifetime.
Kafka is more famous for his story Metamorphosis in which a man in involuntarily transformed into a giant cockroach. In Report to an Academy, Redpeter, a captured simian, imprisoned in a cage, surmises that his only escape route is to become by imitation, a “walking, talking, spitting, hard drinking member” of the humans who have captured him. In Sprung’s version, these humans are mercenary soldiers hired by the fictional Greywater Corporation.
Greywater is a not so subtle substitute for the private military security outfit formed in 1997 as Blackwater (since name changed in 2009 to Xe Services and in 2011 into Academi, before folding in 2014 with other like services into the present Constellis Holdings).
Rosenstein’s incredible make-up (designed by Vladimir Alexandru Cara), augmented by his athletic skills as he sometimes scampers into the audience before returning to the podium to swing his leg over the top, morph him into the very example of a model major military instructor teaching recruits how to most efficiently kill the enemy.
At the 2013 opening, seated, in the front, as is my wont, I was confronted by him commenting that he could kill me with his fingers if he so willed. I was on the verge of mischievously bleating out, “Oh, Yeah? Bring it on, Monkey Man,” but refrained as it was the opening night. Might have done so ’twere the closing.
I have … witnessed actor Howard Rosenstein’s portrayal of the character Redpeter grow increasingly layered with nuance and creditability.
All this in the course of Redpeter relating his own history to the annual meeting of shareholders and pitching how shares of Greywater are a superior investment. Scenes of planes, troopers and ads appear on screen to rousing music.
One might quip Monkey See, Monkey Do meets the (privatized) military-industrial complex.
All in all, enjoyable satire on serious subject done with artistry and humour.
I was reminded of other literary attempts to mold animals into humans, both made into plays and movies. There was, of course, H.G. Wells’ 1896 The Island of Doctor Moreau wherein a mad scientist surgically transformed some 16 species of animals into humanoid creatures. In 1968, Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov published Heart of a Dog wherein Soviet rulers also used surgery to create a new man, obedient and trainable.
In film, Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 Oh Lucky Man shocked with a human head grafted onto a sheep’s body. Surgery has since been replaced by genetic engineering.
Kafka’s Ape concludes its English language run at Morin Heights on February 17.
It will appear “en français” at Maison de la Culture Janine-Sutto on February 19 and 20 and at Maison de la Culture Mont Royal on February 27.
Later it embarks on a tour of Japan.
More information at 514 987-1774
Images: Brian Morel
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.