This past week, Molly McCrea, one of our newest contributors, covered her first event for Swept: Kafka’s Ape.
On Wednesday August 13th I had the opportunity to attend Kafka’s “Ape” at the historic and beautiful Gladstone Hotel as part of the Summerworks Festival currently in progress. I found myself curious about this production because as an employee of the Gladstone, I had been hearing the strangest noises echoing from the Ballroom all week and had the pleasure of meeting both the Director, Guy Sprung and the Ape himself, a charming fellow, Howard Rosenstein who have been staying with us for the duration of the show’s run.
This contemporary adaptation of Kafka’s piece, originally published in 1917 as “Ein Bericht fur eine Acadamie” (Report to the Academy) took me by surprise. I had no previous knowledge of the piece so went in with no idea what it was to be about other than Howard wandering about the hotel with a very interesting beard and the apelike noises heard nightly. The play opens with a gentle “peace” propaganda ad flashing on the two screens that flank the stage. Then arrived Redpeter and his wife played by the beautiful Alexandra Montagnes, Both are very expertly and almost eerily disguised as apes in human form. Mrs. Redpeter immediately takes to the side of the stage where she will stay for the duration of the show occasionally emitting her ape call and jumping every time a whistle is blown. This whistle blowing is never addressed so I assume it is a call for them to behave when they are being too apelike for Graywater, their captor’s liking. Then so begins the hour long monologue of Redpeter.
Ape tells the story of Redpeter. An Ape stolen from his home in Africa by the firm of Graywater, a Private Military Corporation and forced to “humanize” in his long journey across the ocean to begin a life as a mercenary soldier. After humanizing into some semblance of a man Redpeter becomes an elite mercenary solider to be sent to the harshest places in the world to commit, we can only assume, terrible acts against the very humanity he has been forced to join. He in fact becomes more of a wild being then his past self.
It was fascinating that this piece, written in 1917 could parallel events and truths that are still very much evident in today’s troubled world. It doesn’t even seem that far fetched that a corporation could partake in such an activity as capturing wild animals and humanizing them to be essentially brain washed to kill. Kafta must have had a sense of the direction the world would take, that universal seeing of the truth that so many of us today are blind too. I found it interesting that Redpeter is a seasoned drinker, swigging from a bottle of wine throughout the show, the whole way through his presentation. This related somehow I thought, to how he started to feel human after he was forced to drink alcohol for the first time. Something he must have felt he had to do in order to keep up the appearance of humanity and fitting in. How telling that in this moment in our times, especially in North America, the culture of copious alcohol consumption is around us all the time. It is escapism from that universal truth that the world is a mess and we can’t do anything about it. We are losing our humanity indeed.
Howard does a brilliant job as Redpeter. To quote him, in one of our daily conversations at the Gladstone he “feels it is the best work of his life”. Although I don’t know his previous work (but I will make a point of knowing it now!) I think he may be right in that analysis. From the way he moved (a credit to Movement Coach, Zach Fraser) to the sparkle in his eyes his performance translated perfectly to portray this strange apelike human creature that you came to believe could actually exist someday. His delivery was spot on. I did find myself often distracted by the thought provoking themes that ran throughout and had to pull myself back to the content. You really had to listen to connect to all of the nuances of the story. This story offers a scary and surreal look into a potential future. It is a wonderful adaptation of a story that will span the ages in it’s understanding of the demise of humanity.
Kafka’s Ape presented by Infinitheatre of Montreal closes today Sunday August 17th at the Gladstone Hotel and is then onto Stratford.