Actor Boris Granolic finds depth and understanding within the multi-layered structure of Q44's final instalment of the year, Kafka's Monkey.
Based on a short story by Franz Kafka – A Report to an Academy – Kafka's Monkey explores ideas of evolution, Zionism (and the Jewish Diaspora), identity, assimilation, freedom and self. It is a one-man show by an actor who, through necessity, settled in a new land and was thus given the challenges of assimilation and exploration of identity.
"My life prior to settling in Australia contains so many fond memories," says Granolic." I had a very happy childhood. It was perhaps a little more simple in terms of the material things that we were able to afford. However, growing up in former Yugoslavia in the 80s was incredible. I was hardly ever indoors. I’d be out with my friends playing or riding our pushbikes through the city or causing mischief around the neighbourhood. I suppose technology has had a lot to do with that as well, but the fact that I did not spend so much time in front of a computer or mobile phone or tablet is a real bonus in my view."
"That all changed with the Yugoslav civil war. That of course was a tough time for all concerned and as a 10 year old boy, I was forced to grow up pretty quickly. We came to Australia and the place I had grown up in and had loved so much no longer existed. Australia was my new home and from day one, I loved it as such. It gave my family and I everything we could have hoped for. Security, incredible new friends and a lifestyle we could only have dreamed of. And there were sooooo many cartoons to watch on TV!"
"There were challenges too of course. Starting grade 5 one week after arriving while not being able to speak English was the biggest challenge. However, through perseverance and by sticking together as a family, all challenges were met and overcome."
Thus Kafka's Monkey holds more than a passing attraction for Granolic who finds it deeply relatable as well as a wonderful challenge. "When I first read Franz Kafka’s ‘A Report to an Academy, I found myself wanting to unlock and understand the intended meaning of this short story and so I began to research the author," explains Granolic. "Kafka was born into a middleclass, German speaking Jewish family in Prague, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With a division forming between the Czech and German speaking population of Prague, the Jewish community often found itself in between the two factions, naturally raising questions about a place to which one belongs."
"This question of belonging is something which is prevalent in the original short story and therefore in the adaptation, ‘Kafka’s Monkey’. It is also something I strongly relate to, given that my family immigrated to Australia in the early nineties."
"Yet, the more I read the play, the more it became apparent that it was not only a piece about cultural differences, assimilation and fitting into new surroundings. It was also a piece about fitting into families, fitting into friendship groups, fitting into society. This deep desire to fit in is something that we can all relate to."
Granolic plays an ape named Red Peter, whose primal innocence is cut short when he is shot and captured by a hunting party from the firm of Hagenbeck, who are looking for animals to fill the zoos of Europe. He is placed in a tiny cage below the decks of the Hagenbeck steamer. From his cage, Red Peter observes the humans around him and soon discovers a way out.
"The play thematically looks at what it is to be an outsider observing humanity, in a way that perhaps we humans are incapable of," says Granolic. "Through the eyes of Red Peter, Kafka has woven his own views on humanity throughout the piece. Kafka is able to report on themes such as identity, equality, discrimination, violence, cruelty, even loneliness, while also reflecting on his own personal experience of feeling like a misfit in the life his family had mapped out for him. The fact that these themes are still relevant to this day is a credit to a great piece of writing by one of the most prolific writers."
The piece is essentially a 50 minute monologue and the subject matter, says Granolic, is dense. The play is directed by Q44 founder Gabriella Rose-Carter and both she and Granolic are respectful of the dark comedy within the piece. "Gabriella and I have worked hard in bringing to life the humour and tackling that contrast was probably the biggest challenge," says Granolic. "Everyone knows that a one person show is never quite that and through the exciting collaboration that I have experienced with Gabriella, as well as the rest of the crew involved, this piece has been lifted further than I could have imagined."
Aside from the multi-layered nature of the themes, Kafka's Monkey is also an actor's piece allowing scope and diversity within the rehearsal room. Granolic's favourite moments have involved: "Taking animal work to a new level within myself, which then allowed me to find the fun and play in the character. For a long time I had struggled with this and with the character in general. But finding his playfulness and that cheeky side of Red Peter changed not only the play but also my experience of it as an actor."
Granolic tells me that Kafka’s Monkey is a deep and layered play, which will definitely get the audience thinking. However, this does not come at the expense of fun, excitement and some Kafka dark comedy. "I love that it is a reflection of humanity through the eyes of an ape. That somehow makes it less tainted by our own insecurity, judgement or denial. It is us humans, through the eyes of an outsider. And that to me is so exciting."
Director Rose-Carter adds, “Kafka’s Monkey is an honest reflection of how those around us shape the person that we become. It’s a perfect combination of entertainment and reality and will close the season nicely”
November 13 – 30