KAFKA IN LOVE conceived and directed by Thom Sokoloski, with Kirsten Johnson, Vanessa Sliwinski, Atena Ludwa, Amy Fiege, Stacy Burns, Megan Grant and Lara Wiechula. Presented by Autumn Leaf Performance and World Stage at Hart House Pool (7 Hart House). Saturday (May 3), 8 and 10 pm, and Sunday (May 4), 8 pm. $45-$60. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNN
Autumn Leaf performance's production of Kafka In Love can swim rings around just about any other production in town.
Set in the Hart House pool, with the audience watching the action from above, the "water opera" is creator/director Thom Sokoloski"s riff on the barely recorded brief 1913 relationship between author Franz Kafka and Gerti Wasner at a sanatorium where they both underwent hydrotherapy. The third side of this romantic triangle is Felice Bauer, Kafka's fiancée.
Wasner became an aquatic artist in the 20s and 30s, and in the piece - a play-within-a-play - she presents the 1936 premiere of her show about the relationship. It's been banned by the Nazis, for she's Christian and Kafka - sneered at by Germany's leaders as a verminous bug, a reference to his novella Metamorphosis - is Jewish.
The hour-long show is filled with wonderful images, live and on film. Wasner (Kirsten Johnson) directs six synchronized swimmers - performing Debbie Sands's aquatic choreography and wearing bold-coloured, couturier-style swimsuits by Patricia Edwards - who symbolically act out and celebrate episodes of the romance.
The film segments - with Avi Phillips as Kafka, Kelci Archibald as Wasner and Zorana Sadiq as Bauer - have the cool feel of period black-and-white movies. Sokoloski expertly integrates the multimedia aspects of the dreamlike, ritualistic piece, which include text, soundscape and rippling images on and below the water. A fascinating concept, splendidly executed.