It's no surprise that Franz Kafka , author of such landmark fiction as The Trial, Metamorphosis and The Castle, had an angst-ridden relationship with the world.
That anxiety is at the heart of Alon Nashman 's solo show Kafka And Son , whose text is an undelivered letter the despondent 35-year-old wrote to his father.
"There have been four biographies of Kafka this year alone," says Nashman. "He was the canary in the coal mine, able to articulate that the world is a vaguely threatening place, hard to comprehend, filled with labyrinthine dark alleys.
"In Kafka's work there's an impenetrable, godlike authority, and I see its origin in his own father."
Fear and subservience fill the letter, in which the son castigates the father who belittles the younger man's writing and attempts to find a wife for himself. At times the writer is so abject that he seems to apologize for his own justifiable anger.
A fascinating dynamic is going on here, offers Nashman, who's workshopped the piece with co-adaptor and director Mark Cassidy at World Stage, the Ashkenaz Festival and the Tarragon Spring Arts Fair.
"It's also partly the father's tragedy, for he clearly lacks the vocabulary or sensibility to deal with a son who's thin-skinned to the point of transparency, who remembers all his misdemeanours.
"At some level it's a love story of two people who desperately want each other's approval and can't find it in themselves to give it."
The performer points out that the father in the letter and the play, though he's drawn with documentary-like realism, is a creation, a nightmare vision of a paterfamilias.
"At times it's painful, but the writing can also be very funny, since Kafka approaches it from a position of humility and of miniature. It's an analysis from a cockroach's perspective, yet also of someone who sees the absurdity in his situation, no matter how dire."
See Opening for details.
It's great to have another look at the quirky Down The Main Drag , in which small-town guy Him searches for his father, who has mysteriously up and disappeared from the kitchen floor. Steve Laplante 's stylized play, first seen in abbreviated form in last August's SummerWorks, returned last week in a fuller version as part of the Hatch series , with a few new performers.
There's lots of oddball humour in Crystal Béliveau 's translation, nicely directed in a presentational style by Brendan Healy , with such characters as gossipy, perky The Whole Town, well-worn and worldly wise Old Fart and always commiserating The Family.
Despite its entertaining quality, the piece is also, at one level, a meditation on death, loss and love. Though there's still a meandering quality to the narrative, Laplante knows how to juggle distancing and emotional immediacy in its various scenes.
Standouts this time around were newcomers Andrew Bunker as a sweet, confused Him and Marie Beath Badian as the intrusive The Whole Town, while returning performer Clinton Walker reaped comedy and heart from two roles, Old Fart and Him's Uncle, who suggests some gentle emotional truths to his nephew.
Neutrino Video Project
The Neutrino Video Project is discovering that the first Sunday of the month can be a tricky time to hold a show.
Last month they went up against the Super Bowl. This month -- Sunday (March 5) -- it's the Oscars.
"We're actually going to screen the Oscars after the show, so you can stay," says Jen Radomsky , Neutrino's exec producer and one of the show's regular stable of performers.
The symbolism couldn't be more apt. After all, NVP is a high-concept show that results in a fully improvised hour-long film. It involves a team of top-notch improvisers, some savvy camera operators and some very quick runners. Based on an audience suggestion, the performers, split into three groups, create scenes that are then interwoven into a movie. The audience watches the gradual film footage mere minutes after the actors have taped their scenes.
Radomsky licensed the concept from the show's originators, Kurt Braunohler and Ptolmy Slocum , from New York. There are other Neutrino shows in Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.
I took in Neutrino's Super Bowl show last month and saw the original NYC troupe a few years ago at Toronto's Improv Festival. I have mixed feelings about the concept.
We watch film and video with a more ruthless eye than live comedy shows. Pointless scenes, structural flaws and technical slip-ups look worse on a screen than they do on a stage. Also, actors thrive on an audience's energy.
"I totally hear you," admits Radomsky. "But at the same time, I think the audience gives us a bit of grace. They know we're out there doing it live. And as actors, the show really forces you to focus on what you're doing in a scene as opposed to working off an audience."
This month's show takes place at Bad Dog Theatre (normally it's at the Drake ). Radomsky doesn't know yet if there'll be a red carpet outside the Danforth space, but she's trying to get at least one of the crew to wear black tie for the affair.
And Oscar predictions?
"I've been so busy, I haven't been able to see many of the films," she confesses,"which might give me the edge for the Oscar pool."
See Comedy Listings for details.
This year the Tarragon has moved its free reading series of works-in-progress by members of the Playwrights Unit to the spring, an appropriate time for budding new works.
The scripts are by 2005 unit members Alan Dilworth , David Egan , Briony Glassco , Anita Majumdar , Soheil Parsa and Richard Sanger . With direction by Andy McKim , Eda Holmes and Parsa, the works feature a talented group of performers, among them Rahnuma Panthaky , Imali Perera , Anand Rajaram , Juan Chioran , Kristen Thomson , Hrant Alianak , David Collins , Ron Lea , Lyon Smith , Maev Beaty , Alex Poch-Goldin , Rick Roberts and Camille Stubel .
There's a new reading each night beginning Monday (March 6). See Opening for details.