At 45 minutes in length, ‘Kafka's Monkey’ is a powerful one – person monologue. Adapted in 2009 for the stage by Colin Teevan, the play is based on a short story by Franz Kafka. Written and first published in 1917, 'A Report To An Academy' is a tale, rich in class divide, social and racial metaphor.
Many of Kafka's works, particularly The Metamorphosis (1915) and The Trial (1925), tackle complex and serious themes such as wrongful imprisonment, alienation, bureaucratic red tape and transformative adaption. 'A Report To An Academy' is no exception.
‘Kafka’s Monkey’ is essentially the story of Red Peter, an ape shot and captured on the Gold Coast of Africa. He is then locked below deck on a slave ship, but soon learns to imitate human behavior as a survival mechanism. His evolvement is allowed and accepted, soon becoming a cult celebrity in the process. The show hints several times that in this act of stealth, Kafka’s Monkey is actually about Jewish assimilation.
Previous productions of the piece include a notable staging by the New Vic in London, which starred Kathryn Hunter as Red Peter.
Q44 Theatre has quickly established itself as the go to group for exciting and dynamic choices. Previous shows include Dolores (by Edward Allan Baker), Orphans (by Lyle Kessler), and Spike Heels (by Theresa Rebeck).
The company’s presentation of ‘Kafka’s Monkey’ is immersive, soulful, and wickedly clever.
From the moment one enters the studio, be prepared for a crash course in Surrealism 101. What appears to be a tribute to early 20th century Eastern European cafe society complete with gypsy backing music, is quickly turned on its head. There is a true sense of becoming part of a secret club.
The first appearance of Red Peter is startling. Played by dashing Boris Granolic, the actor is dressed to the hilt in an elegant tuxedo. (This production choice is surely deliberate. The slang term for a tux is a ‘monkey suit’.)
Taking immediate physical command of the role, Granolic uses the entire room like a personal adventure playground. With an arched back and loping gait, he is always in complete character and total control.
Constantly on the go, Granolic climbs and descends the stairs, grabs onto ropes, jumps from one part of the room to another, and sometimes appears cage – bound. Never once does one doubt his animal past or intellectual evolution.
As a part of Red Peter’s growth, he also learns by observation. There are moments of audience interaction that are both amusing yet intentionally uncomfortable. (I fell victim to having the actor examine my scalp on opening night, much to everyone’s surprise and delight.)
Gabriella Rose-Carter directs ‘Kafka’s Monkey’ with aplomb and heart. Q44 has created a moving experience which ‘King Kong’, that recent Regent Theatre juggernaut, should have been.