“Kafka in Tel Aviv” First Draft Reviews

Here’s the spot for first drafts of reviews about this afternoon’s production, “Kafka in Tel Aviv.”

8 Comments on ““Kafka in Tel Aviv” First Draft Reviews

  1. There is no denying the universal truth that stories are tools we use to find ourselves. No matter who you are, what you do, where you come from, what you like, what you hate, stories will speak to you. But what happens when you root yourself so deeply in a story that you lose yourself in it completely, to the point of disappearing from your own reality entirely? This is the question Kafka In Tel Aviv seeks to answer in a brilliant weave of interlocking stories and vivid characters you will come to care fiercely about before the two hours are up.
    Nina Stern, a young woman from Brooklyn, New York, is determined to unravel the mystery behind the beloved manuscripts her father used to read to her when she was a girl. To do so, this lovably awkward, endearing heroine takes off on a wild adventure overseas in Tel Aviv, resolved to get to the bottom of the man who wrote them, Franz Kafka, who became her obsession when her father died. At the same time, the play follows the life of Franz Kafka from childhood to adulthood nearly a century before while still neatly intertwining incredible puppeteered displays of the stories he created throughout his lifetime. It is an overdose of story on story on story, and there could be no better high than the enjoyment wrought from being pulled into such a show.
    This play has everything. Adventure, mystery, action, suspense, emotion, humour, romance–you name it. It sucks you in and doesn’t let you go from the first line to the last. Before you know it, Nina’s fierce passion becomes your own and you are just as determined to figure out what is happening as she is. This is the kind of play that will appeal to all audiences, because it is infinitely relatable in the sense that every person at some point in his or her life has struggled with question: who am I?
    It is not often that both a production and the written work itself can each be called extraordinary. Usually one is considered weaker than the other, but in the case of Kafka In Tel Aviv, the combination of the two is flawless. The cast is talented, energetic and extremely believable, the technology behind the video blogs displayed on the multi-faceted yet simple set is highly successful in drawing us into Nina’s story, and the play itself is both entertaining and enlightening, never losing its power despite the fast pace.
    Through different characters, we are told, time and again, that we have been called to write our own story; that we are not to forget our own creativity in the whirlwind of another’s. Perhaps this is not a unique theme for a play, but the way Kafka in Tel Aviv delivers it home, it may as well be. Near the beginning, we learn that books should “bite and sting us” and “wake us up”, that they “are the raft” on which we not only survive on, but thrive on–and well, I think it is safe to say that this play will not only wake you up but throw you out the door ready to take on the whole world with arms wide open. We belong in our own stories–and every single person has a story worth telling; a story worth living.
    So, should you go see it? Let’s see. Have you ever struggled with your sense of identity? Have you ever wondered if you really matter in the grand scheme of things? Are you a human being who appreciates brilliant storytelling? Or better yet–are you human? Then yes. Absolutely you should go see this show. If you believe in the power of stories and their ability to remake us, to define us, to inspire us, I guarantee you’ll be on your feet by the end of it.

    -Caitlin Krahn

  2. It is a strenuous and fruitless task to sum up Kafka in Tel Aviv with a few pithy descriptors. At some moments, it is a grand literary mystery or a journey of self-discovery; at others, it takes a biographical look at the tortured, sickly life of Franz Kafka himself. But the format of the play defies any of these easy classifications. It morphs from basic drama to expressionistic puppet show and back around to a psychedelic nightmare journey into human identity.

    On the surface, Kafka tells the story of Nina Stern, a hipster blogger from NYC, as she journeys to the state of Israel to find for herself the private manuscripts of the great existentialist writer. However, this adventure gradually fades out of focus as Nina explores her own identity in greater depth. The lead actress’s portrayal of Nina reflects this passage; while she starts out as a somewhat naive, sheltered young adult, she soon has to confront the possibility that she may be molding her whole life around her obsession with Kafka. The other cast members deserve a great deal of credit as well—they project the feeling that everything is perfectly normal for them, forcing Nina to confront her crumbling reality all alone.

    Interspersed with the unraveling of Nina’s life are several key moments in the life of Kafka. The actor playing Kafka uses his thin, wiry physicality to present the writer as a man whose body is frail but whose soul, passion, and dedication to his craft could not be stronger. In fact, this fierce determination to keep writing estranges his father and ruins several marriage engagements. Kafka is so committed, though, so body-and-soul invested in his work, would he even truly be himself if he gave it up?

    The set design is simple yet evocative, allowing the audience to feel around in the crevices of both characters’ psyches. The only scenery is a collection of blocks stacked to form eccentric towers, though that simple description undermines what the set is capable of accomplishing. These towers function almost like puzzle-boxes, harboring seemingly infinite surprises as each scene progresses. In one moment a tabletop pops out from the side of one tower, in another scene all the towers push slowly inward to create a creeping, organic sense of claustrophobia. Sometimes, scene backdrops or clips from Nina’s video blogs are projected onto the blocks, and specific blocks have light projected from the inside, serving as miniature shadow puppet theaters.

    In fact, it would be nearly criminal to overlook the puppetry integrated into the show. Some of Kafka’s most compelling tales are rendered like bizarre dreams by the masterful puppeteers, who are clad all in black to be almost invisible to the audience. The puppets are operated in an incredibly lifelike manner, with a strong sense of anatomy. The contrast of this realistic motion with the puppets’ pale faces and dead-eyed stares give Kafka’s horrific tales an even more grotesque and compelling spin. Much like the play as a whole, these puppet segments are terrifically inventive yet still central to the characters’ emotional odyssey.

    For those who may see a production of Kafka in Tel Aviv, I cannot guarantee that you will leave the theater with total knowledge of what precise, physical events took place. The finale of this work takes place wholly in the realm of emotion and identity, divorced somewhat from the physical yet still relevant to it. Nina’s fate and future are not given a clear resolution, but the audience can sense the end of a journey, the arrival at a turning point. Kafka is a trip through the soul, deep into the twisted maw of identity; is it any wonder that endings there are not tied in neat packages?

  3. One of the virtues of theater as an art form is that it is often free to be ideologically complex. Experiencing live actors performing in front of you can stimulate a greater mental energy and focus than you may exhibit while watching a film, which allows an audience to take in more profound and complex dialogue. The Middlebury College production of David Edgar’s Pentecost embodied that uniquely theatrical density of drama as the most cerebrally complex contemporary play I’ve seen on a stage. Yet its cerebral material was rooted in a captivating and relatable human drama.

    The story is of two art experts who discover of a historically important painting, possibly the greatest find since King Tut’s tomb. When met with a cast of twenty-nine other international characters, varying cultural values and personal experiences of suffering collide into deep philosophical argument and a tense and violent hostage situation. The play keeps its philosophical musing livid by rooting all its discourse amidst such a tense situation, continually prompting deep reflection on the significance of art and language in human society while we wait in anguish to discover the fates of the characters

    It is always difficult to play a text full of dense, philosophical musing while keeping the action enthralling. This cast of more than thirty people does so speaking in multiple languages to tell a complicated plot. Everyone’s voice was clear and distinct, in terms of not only accurate accent-work, but also erupting with clear senses of character directives and objective choices.

    The play’s most intense moment came at its climax, in which the dialogue suddenly dispersed for a brutal moment of extreme violence. Never have I screamed out loud at a climax like this and burst into tears at the desolation on stage. Contrariwise, the only moment that took me out of the show was an earlier technical flaw in which the sound of a crying baby was unrealistically loud and clearly emerging from the speaker system, not the baby doll onstage. But the rest of the production was so clean and intense that I left the theater with a heavy sadness for the tragic elements of the drama and a desperate desire to read the play again and delve further into its riveting ideas.

  4. Knowing nothing about the new play from Salem State College but its title, I went into Kafka in Tel Aviv expecting something “Kafkaesque”. The plays lets us know, however, that Kafka would have hated the word “Kafkaesque”, so I’ll just say I was delighted to see an application of Kafka’s tropes of chaotic human suffering in existential crises in a distinctly theatrical and absorbing form. With a compelling, bizarre plot and an atmosphere of confusion and inner turmoil, this play does encapsulate many of the engrossing elements of its namesake’s work, while utilizing contemporary, antirealistic theatrical techniques to create a uniquely styled piece of theater.
    The play opens with something of a prologue, a puppet show that dramatized one of Kafka’s short stories. The actors share control of a marionette, a marionette that moves with an almost lifelike physical realism, the grace of a two-dimensional animated character on a 3D stage. The techniques of this first puppet show repeated in moments throughout the play, as we take a pause from the narrative to see a dramatized Kafka story. These narrative breaks not only display the talents of the cast but fuel a fascinating atmospheric shift from elements of comic realism to elements of terrifying and uncanny absurdity. The play’s form reflects its content, and as the play becomes more antirealistic, the technical elements become all the more strange and alluring. It’s an absorbing way to immerse us into the confusion of the world of the play, as we ourselves question the realism of what’s happening onstage.
    This sort of theatrical technique isn’t anything new, reflecting an increase in antirealistic technical efforts to correspond with a shift in dramatic substance. I’m reminded of Tracey Letts’s Bug, another play in which the action on stage becomes bizarre as the central character delves into psychosis. In fact, Kafka in Tel Aviv seems to carry an awareness that what it’s doing has been done before. The characters comment on the Kafkaesque nature of the play and even go so far as to deconstruct its own merits as a meta-fictionally self-aware ode to the great existential writer. So the play applies a familiar theatrical tool to comment on an artist, and Kafka in Tel Aviv becomes both an immersive piece of absurdism and a deconstruction of the theatrical style.
    The acting in the play has a similar effect of form reflecting the absurdist conflict. At first, it took me a while to appreciate the quality of the acting. After the initial puppet sequence, the play proper begins to tell a seemingly realistic story about an obsessive Kafka fan who journeys to Tel Aviv in search of a woman who owns Kafka’s manuscripts. Early in the play, I felt that there was something a bit unnatural coming from the performance of the actress playing the Kafka fan (I don’t know the actor’s name as this production went without programs). The character is neurotic and exhibits a strange quality of social awkwardness and introspective discomfort, so the actress’s highly theatrical performance seemed somewhat believable, but at least in the first half of the play I felt like she was relying so heavily on elocution and physicality that something was off in her interactions with the other characters. It was not until the play became more overtly absurdist that I realized her highly theatrical performance choices were purposeful. It would have been unwise, even impossible for her to use a more naturalistic technique for the character, as by the play’s end it was impossible to tell what exactly was going on with her on a literal level. What was stunning then was that as I realized what exactly the play was trying to do, I developed a completely different response to what I had seen earlier in the play; everything she did now made perfect sense. The play forces its audience to reconsider the value of what we are watching, just as it reconsiders the value of Kafka and of art.
    It’s a pleasure that the play can completely turn around its technique and force us to reconsider its merits. There’s a powerful sensation of the play moving beyond a piece of reflective drama in and of itself into a sort of superfiction, a play that simultaneously acts as a play and an immersive philosophical exercise investigating its own value and the value of art. Kafka in Tel Aviv acts as its own critic in a way, moving beyond the expected role of art and somehow encapsulating a function beyond reflective art. There is something new here, something I’ve never seen in a play, which is just about the best thing one can get out of a night at the theater.

  5. Since there doesn’t seem to be a blog post for it yet, here’s the revised draft of my Kafka review!

    It is a strenuous and fruitless task to sum up “Kafka in Tel Aviv” with a few basic descriptors. At some moments, it is a grand literary mystery or a journey of self-discovery; at others, it takes a biographical look at the tortured, sickly life of Franz Kafka himself. But the structure of the play defies any of these easy classifications. It morphs from straightforward drama to expressionistic puppet show and back around to a psychedelic nightmare journey into human identity.

    On the surface, “Kafka” tells the story of Nina, a hipster blogger from New York City, as she journeys to the state of Israel to find for herself the private manuscripts of the great existentialist writer. However, this adventure gradually fades out of focus as Nina explores her own identity in greater depth. The lead actress’s portrayal of Nina reflects this passage; while she starts out as a somewhat naive, sheltered young adult, she soon has to confront the possibility that she may be molding her whole life around her obsession with Kafka, and the sense that her own identity is fading away at the same time.

    Key moments in the life of Kafka are interspersed between stretches of Nina’s story. The actor playing Kafka uses his thin, wiry physicality to present the writer as a man whose body is frail but whose soul, passion, and dedication to his craft could not be stronger. In fact, this fierce determination to keep writing estranges his father and ruins several marriage engagements. Kafka is so committed, though, so body-and-soul invested in his work that one wonders if he would even truly be himself if he gave it up.

    The set design is simple yet evocative, allowing the audience to feel around in the crevices of both characters’ psyches. The only scenery is a collection of blocks stacked to form eccentric towers, though that simple description understates what the set is capable of accomplishing. These towers function like puzzle-boxes, harboring seemingly infinite surprises as each scene progresses. In one moment a tabletop pops out from the side of one tower, in another scene all the towers push slowly inward to create a creeping, organic sense of claustrophobia. Sometimes, scene backdrops or clips from Nina’s video blogs are projected onto the blocks, and specific blocks have light projected from the inside, serving as miniature shadow puppet theaters.

    Speaking of which, the puppetry segments are some of the most evocative and unique in the entire play. Some of Kafka’s most compelling tales are rendered like bizarre dreams by the masterful puppeteers, clad all in black to be almost invisible to the audience. The puppets are operated in an incredibly lifelike manner, with a strong sense of anatomy. The contrast of this realistic motion with the puppets’ pale faces and dead-eyed stares give Kafka’s horrific tales an even more grotesque and compelling spin. Much like the play as a whole, these puppet segments are terrifically inventive yet still central to the characters’ emotional odyssey.

    For those who may see a production of “Kafka in Tel Aviv”, I cannot guarantee that you will leave the theater with total knowledge of what precise, physical events took place. The denouement of this work takes place wholly in the realm of emotion and identity, divorced somewhat from the physical yet still relevant to it. Nina’s fate and future are not given a clear resolution, but the audience can sense the end of a journey, the arrival at a turning point. “Kafka” is a trip through the soul, deep into the twisted maw of identity; is it any wonder that endings there are not tied in neat packages?

  6. Here’s my revision:

    Knowing nothing about the new play from Salem State College but its title, I went into Kafka in Tel Aviv expecting something “Kafkaesque”. The plays lets us know, however, that Kafka would have hated the word “Kafkaesque”, so I’ll just say I was delighted to see an application of Kafka’s tropes of chaotic human suffering in existential crises into a distinctly theatrical and absorbing form. With a compelling, bizarre plot and an atmosphere of confusion and inner turmoil, this play does encapsulate many of the engrossing elements of its namesake’s work, while utilizing contemporary, antirealistic theatrical techniques to create a uniquely styled piece of theater.

    The play begins as a seemingly realistic story about an obsessive Kafka fan who journeys to Tel Aviv in search of a woman who owns Kafka’s manuscripts. Early in the play, I felt that there was something a bit unnatural coming from the performance of the actress playing the Kafka fan (I don’t know the actor’s name as this production went without programs). The character is neurotic and exhibits a strange quality of social awkwardness and introspective discomfort, so the actress’s highly theatrical performance seemed somewhat believable. But at least in the first half of the play I felt like she was relying so heavily on elocution and physicality, with a startlingly tense voice and wild arm movements, that something was off in her interactions with the other characters. It was not until the play became more overtly absurdist that I realized her highly theatrical performance choices were purposeful. It would have been unwise, even impossible for her to use a more naturalistic technique for the character, as by the play’s end it was impossible to tell what exactly was going on with her on a literal level. What was stunning then was that as I realized what exactly the play was trying to do, I developed a completely different response to what I had seen earlier in the play; everything she did now made perfect sense. My experience with this character was an enlightening journey. Once I realized what the actress was going for, I was enthralled by her work.

    The technical elements of the play share an effective sort of purposeful antirealism. It opens with something of a prologue, a puppet show that dramatized one of Kafka’s short stories. The actors share control of a marionette, a marionette that moves with an almost lifelike physical realism, the grace of a two-dimensional animated character on a 3D stage. The techniques of this first puppet show repeated in moments throughout the play, as we take a pause from the narrative to see a dramatized Kafka story. These narrative breaks not only display the talents of the cast but fuel a fascinating atmospheric shift from elements of comic realism to elements of terrifying and uncanny absurdity. The play’s form reflects its content, and as the play becomes more antirealistic, the technical elements become all the more strange and alluring. It’s an absorbing way to immerse us into the confusion of the world of the play, as we ourselves question the realism of what’s happening onstage.

    This sort of theatrical technique isn’t anything new, reflecting an increase in antirealistic technical efforts to correspond with a shift in dramatic substance. I’m reminded of Tracey Letts’s Bug, another play in which the action on stage becomes bizarre as the central character delves into psychosis. In fact, Kafka in Tel Aviv seems to carry an awareness that what it’s doing has been done before. The characters comment on the Kafkaesque nature of the play and even go so far as to deconstruct its own merits as a meta-fictionally self-aware ode to the great existential writer. So the play applies a familiar theatrical tool to comment on an artist, and Kafka in Tel Aviv becomes both an immersive piece of absurdism and a deconstruction of the theatrical style.

    It’s a pleasure that the play can completely turn around its technique and force us to reconsider its merits. There’s a powerful sensation of the play moving beyond a piece of reflective drama in and of itself into a sort of superfiction, a play that simultaneously acts as a play and an immersive philosophical exercise investigating its own value and the value of art. Kafka in Tel Aviv acts as its own critic in a way, moving beyond the expected role of art and somehow encapsulating a function beyond reflective art. There is something new here, something I’ve never seen in a play, which is just about the best thing one can get out of a night at the theater.

  7. Rewrite:

    Stories are tools we use to find ourselves. No matter who you are, what you do, where you come from, what you like, what you hate, stories will speak to you. But what happens when you root yourself so deeply in a story that you lose yourself in it completely, to the point of disappearing from your own reality entirely? This is the question “Kafka In Tel Aviv” seeks to answer in a brilliant weave of interlocking stories and vivid characters you will come to care fiercely about before the two hours are up.
    Nina Stern, a young woman from New York, is determined to unravel the mystery behind the beloved manuscripts her father used to read to her when she was a girl. To do so, this lovably awkward heroine takes off overseas on a wild adventure in Tel Aviv, resolved to finally understand the man who wrote them, Franz Kafka, who has become her obsession since her father’s death. At the same time, the play follows the life of Franz Kafka from childhood to adulthood nearly a century before while still neatly intertwining incredible puppeteered displays of the stories he created throughout his lifetime. It is a whirlwind of story on story on story that captivates completely.
    This play has everything. Adventure, mystery, action, suspense, emotion, humour, romance–you name it. It sucks you in and doesn’t let you go from the first line to the last. Almost immediately, Nina’s fierce passion becomes your own and you are just as determined to figure out what is happening as she is. This is the kind of play that will appeal to all audiences, because it is infinitely relatable in the sense that every person at some point in his or her life has struggled with the question: who am I?
    It is not often that both a production and the written work itself can each be called extraordinary. Sometimes one is considered weaker than the other, but in the case of “Kafka In Tel Aviv”, the combination of the two is flawless. The cast is talented, energetic and extremely believable, the technology behind the video blogs displayed on the multi-faceted yet simple set is highly successful in drawing us into Nina’s story, and the play itself is both entertaining and enlightening, never losing its power despite the fast pace.
    Through different characters, we are told time and again that we have been called to write our own story; that we are not to forget our own creativity in the whirlwind of another’s. Perhaps this is not a unique theme for a play, but the way “Kafka in Tel Aviv” delivers it home, it may as well be. Near the beginning, we learn that books should “bite and sting us” and “wake us up”, that they “are the raft” on which we not only survive on, but thrive on–and well, I think it is safe to say that this play will not only wake you up but throw you out the door ready to take on the whole world with arms wide open. We belong in our own stories–and every single person has a story worth telling; a story worth living.
    So, should you go see it? Well, ask yourself this: have you ever struggled with your sense of identity? Have you ever wondered if you really matter in the grand scheme of things? Are you a human being who appreciates brilliant storytelling? Or better yet–are you human? Then yes. Absolutely you should go see this show. If you believe in the power of stories and their ability to remake us, to define us, to inspire us, I guarantee you’ll be on your feet by the end of it.

    -Caitlin Krahn

  8. As I could not view LYLH today, here is my Web review for “Kafka in Tel Aviv” in its stead.

    “Kafka in Tel Aviv” may be one of the best new productions I have had the pleasure to view in a long time. For those who don’t know Franz Kafka was a German writer whom is considered to be one of the most influential existentialism authors of the twentieth century. Peter Sampieri, whom was both the playwright and director, bravely took on the task of not only creating a show that would inform an audience about Kafka’s life, but also the task of creating a story around the telling the story of Kafka’s life, a story that an audience could relate with while integrating aspects of Kafka’s actual stories! To recapitulate, it’s a story that was used to tell Kafka’s life story while also using Kafka’s stories while telling it. It seems hard to follow, however while viewing the play it is not.

    The present protagonist Nina’s story is that having been raised with Kafka’s stories, after loosing her father and learning of an ongoing legal battle between a woman whom inherited Kafka’s manuscripts and Israel, she is seemingly inspired to travel to Israel to speak to this woman. In this production Nina was portrayed as a somewhat uncertain student whom is at times awkward, especially during her interactions with Israeli’s. At the same time, right away the audience is able to tell something is off about Nina beyond being raised by Kafka’s stories as we discover she “vlogs” every night an entry directed towards Kafka, even though by this point in time he has been dead for several decades.

    True to the ideas of Kafka this play itself is very existential and makes you question the very meaning of not only the present protagonist Nina’s identity, nor the past protagonist Kafka’s identity but any person’s identity really. Is a person defined by their works? Or does the people one surrounds themselves with define a person? Both? Or neither? These are the questions I was left with after seeing the show. This show also did a wonderful job of portraying the uncertainty of Nina’s character mental state and the idea of human suffering. The end of the production leaves the audience wondering how much of the play actually occurred. If any of it occurred. Which is very Kafka-esque which is a term I should not use because according to the play Kafka himself would hate people using that term.

    What I loved most about this production was the puppetry used to portray bits and pieces of Kafka’s actual stories. It would be a crime at this point in my critique to not mention the dramaturg that worked on this production Lia Parisi who worked on the translations of Kafka’s stories. It is also a crime to not mention the wonderful designer who began the creation of these puppets before the script itself was even finished. However I can’t name this wonderful designer or any other person in the production because of the lack of playbills. Shame on whomever is responsible for there not being playbills at this production!

    Because of the immensive team it took to seamlessly transition both the blocks of the set and the puppets itself, the ensemble of the cast was huge. However, their team work is well commended as it really seemed seamless, at times it looked like there were at least two to three people working to make one puppets movements realistic. Because of their costuming, which was all black with a black-netted mask, they really seemed like a single entity rather than multiple people. The actors who portrayed the people characters should be commended as well for wholly taking on the personas they were given. There was no lack of talent in this bunch of actors.

    One of my only criticisms for this production would be that it was edited from an almost two hour and forty-five minute production into an almost two hour one act. While I was thoroughly engaged the entire time, it might be wise to add back in the intermission for some of the more antsy audiences. I was really touched by this production. I felt Nina’s confusion and Kafka’s pain, I enjoyed Kafka’s bits of stories and am now inspired to go seek them out to be wholly read. There are so many ideas to be had after viewing this production, the only advice I have would be to go experience it yourself, as there is so much to be received out of seeing this production.

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