Franz Kafka (1883-1924), one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century lived a tortured existence. Because this is evidenced in his short stories (i.e. “Metamorphosis”) and novels (i.e.The Trial), we identify readily with Kafka’s peculiar characters as modern. Uniquely, they confront isolation and surreality. Additionally, they manifest the concept of the soul fighting with itself in its attempt to understand existence and purpose. Surely, the worlds Kafka creates in his literary works echo the strangeness and alienation he felt throughout his life. Thus, Alon Nashman’s brilliant portrayal of the reclusive, oppressed, and withdrawn Kafka in Kafka and Son offers a profound look into the writer’s being. Nashman’s and Mark Cassidy’s (the fine director) conception provides many insights into Franz Kafka.
Kafka and Son currently at the Soho Playhouse as part of the Fringe Encore Series 2017 won global awards, and it is obvious why. First, Nashman created an exceptional work based upon Kafka’s letters to his father Hermann, and his father’s replies. Next, Nashman reveals the writer’s backstory of his religion, relationships, and attitudes toward women, and these revelations heighten our understanding of Kafka’s works. Consequently, we are able to acknowledge the themes threading through Kafka’s most profound novels and short stories, and we realize that many of Kafka’s characters reflect Franz’s haunted, twisted emotions and soul.
With authenticity and power, Nashman chronicles the father’s austere demeanor and tyrannical behavior toward Franz beginning with events from his childhood. Cleverly, Nashman alters the voice and gestures of Hermann as he portrays the father. As a paternalistic, domineering and undemonstrative father, the elder Kafka shines the light on himself as a heroic stalwart in physical and mental strength. Conversely, Franz’s diminutive stature and sleight build becomes the battering ram that bludgeons Franz’s self-esteem. Regardless of how he tries, Franz cannot please his father or obtain his love or approval. This not only creates an atmosphere of terror in the household, it becomes the bitter beer that both father and son must swallow every time they go head to head.
Sequentially, we learn Kafka makes escape attempts through his writing which his father demeans. On the other hand his father prefers his son follow in his mercantile footsteps and, if Franz cannot, he should at least obtain an excellent position. Because he believes he cannot satisfy his father’s high expectations, Franz founders in unhappiness. While his father browbeats him with his own greatness, Kafka becomes mired in his misery of feeling like a void, spinning without purpose.
As a result of Kafka’s lack of self-love, his relationships with women become aborted. Sadly, if he finds a woman he likes, his father criticizes his choice. Subsequently, Kafka becomes depressed. Finally, Kafka’s sorrow and self-condemnation becomes the paternally forged mountain he cannot climb.
While we understand how Kafka’s reaction to his father deserves blame, Kafka becomes resigned. He doesn’t blame his father for his being. However, in not pointing the finger, this non-act ironically makes him feel thwarted and unloved at every turn. As the son and the father polarize each other throughout the play, we identify, laugh, and weep. Although Kafka lays no blame at his father’s door, their antithetical existences gnarl and twist their relationship beyond repair. Thus, there is no turning back, no redemption, no straightening matters out. Indeed, only suffering abides.
With the use of cages, feathers, iron bed frames, and more, Nashman symbolizes Kafka’s imprisonment by his father’s words and strictures, and these structures symbolize his self-imprisonment. Nashman’s performance of Franz and Hermann mesmerizes. Additionally, the appropriate staging and lighting acutely enhances the themes. Notably, in its elucidation of the man and his work Kafka and Son remains fluid and electric in its psychological exploration. In its conceptualization of how a parent may unwittingly mold a child, this work is just incredible.
Nashman’s portrayal of Hermann and Franz Kafka’s terrorism of each other in this play combines humor, pathos, profound realizations with lost expectations tragic consequences. “Should parents forge their children’s being by withholding love?” seems the overriding question of the play. Certainly, Hermann and Franz’s relationship brought to life by Nashman offers an examination of how not to raise one’s child. On the other hand child-rearing has been a mystery that mostly no one gets right except through hindsight. Kafka and Son provides an amazing evening of entertainment both intellectual and soulful. It is a must-see performance deserving of every award it has won. Don’t miss it.
Kafka and Son (conceived by Anton Nashman and Mark Cassidy-director), runs with no intermission at the Soho Playhouse. Check the website for exact times and dates.