Alon Nashman Takes on Seven Questions about Kafka & Son, Bringing It to the International Stage, & Solo Performance
After sell-out performances on four continents, Alon Nashman brings his acclaimed one-man-show, Kafka and Son, to New York as part of the Soho Playhouse Fringe Encore Series beginning on October 3. The piece, which examines Franz Kafka and his strained relationship with his overbearing father, won Outstanding Production awards at the Prague, Canadian, German, and South African theatre awards.
BroawayBox caught up with Alon to talk about the piece, what we need to know about Kafka going in, and how international audiences receive the same story differently.
1. What inspired you to begin this journey with Kafka? How did you know there was a show here?
The journey actually began with Allen Ginsburg. I developed a theatrical version of Howl with director Mark Cassidy, and we had such a great time that we sought another piece of writing to adapt. Mark suggested the massive letter Kafka wrote to his father. From my first read I was taken with how intrinsically dramatic the letter is. Kafka conjures his father, giving him more and more presence in the letter until the colossus of a father is finally unleashed and essentially destroys the author. It reads as an epic battle, a potent two-hander, but all taking place within the confines of one mind. From that came the idea of setting the piece within a series of cages, which are Kafka’s room, his nightmare, and his refuge.
2. What surprised you most in your research?
I did not expect to find myself laughing as much as I did. Kafka has a wicked sense of humor, which shows up in his journal entries, his letters, and his fiction, all of which we have woven into the play. Apparently, when he first read The Metamorphosis out loud to a group of writer friends they were all laughing hysterically, taking it all as absurd humor. And, c’mon, it is funny to have your central character wake up one day to discover he’s turned into an insect. The Onion captured Kafka’s odd brand of comedy with a brilliant piece on Prague’s (imagined) Franz Kafka International Airport… so good it could be a Kafka short story.
3. What are three things audiences should know before stepping into the theatre?
• There will be words. Kafka was a lawyer as well as being a prodigious writer, and he knew how to twist and turn a phrase.
• There will be feathers. Kafka means Jackdaw, a form of black bird, and black feathers figure prominently in the play as everything from his writing to his soul.
• There will be talkbacks. After every performance, the audience is invited to discuss issues raised by the play, from our experience as parents and children, to the notion of “Kafkaesque” in our time.
4. What advice would you give to someone doing the Edinburgh Festival for the first time?
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the Turkish Bazar of performance. Every nook and cranny of this medieval city is stuffed with performers wanting to strut their stuff, from singers to stilt walkers, comics to flamenco dancers, everything under the sun really. For those who love to experience the possibilities of the human mind and body it is a delightful kaleidoscope. And there are remarkable opportunities for creative cross-pollination. The challenge is to maintain your own concentration and focus amidst the aggressive distractions. My advice: find a quiet corner.
5. How did audience reaction to the piece change and stay the same from continent to continent?
The play seems to mean different things to different audiences. When I performed it in Edinburgh in front of Maori elder Tame Iti, he told me that this play should be seen by all the fathers and sons of his community who have trouble communicating. In South Africa, the play was invited to the National Arts Festival because the director thought it would expose a tough and insensitive type of fatherhood shared by Africans, Afrikaans, and Indians. In Turkey, this past April, just before the referendum which installed President Erdogan as permanent dictator, audiences seemed hungry for an opportunity to talk about the excesses of authority. In Germany, it became a parable of a timid Jewish son reaching toward a brutal Fatherland, struggling to forgive if not forget.
6. What’s been the biggest challenge and reward with your theatre company, Theaturtle?
Theaturtle just produced a new chamber musical called CHARLOTTE: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music, inspired by the life and artwork of Charlotte Salomon. Charlotte expanded the scope of Theaturtle, and taxed this little company’s resources. But in the end, with standing ovations after our work-in-progress performances at Luminato Festival in Toronto, and a short run at the World Stage Design Festival in Taipei, a beautiful music theatre piece was born, one which we hope to share with New York audiences someday.
7. How do you prepare the marathon of Kafka & Son? What’s the pre-show like?
This is one of those all-in performances, and I need to harness my strength and bravado, as well as access my shame, weakness and powerlessness. The performance is informed by the years of work we did to make the play, the many explorations we embarked on. Mentally, I need to review the text before every show…it is never on automatic pilot for me. Physically I like to stretch, flop on one of those exercise balls, loosen myself, especially my neck. Then there is a ritual to the way I prepare for the magic in the play.
Don’t miss Alon Nashman in Kafka and Son at off-Broadway’s Soho Playhouse through October 22.