NABOKV-L post 0010507, Tue, 2 Nov 2004 13:49:14 -0800

Fwd: great novelist Vladimir Nabokov (played by Erik Edborg) ...
EDFNOTE. Your VN-oddity for the day. VN character in play _Kafka on

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Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004 07:51:22 -0500
From: "Sandy P. Klein"
Cutting-Edge Comedy
DENVER WESTWORD Wed, 13 Oct 2004 5:53 PM PDT
Theparking lot is full, and cars line the curb on both sides of the
street.Inside, people throng the lobby. A couple is being turned
away at thefront desk: "I'm sorry. We're all sold out." _[3][4] [5]

Cutting-Edge Comedy
Buntport's Kafka on Ice _slices up themelancholy author's life.

Erin Rollman and Gary Culig in Kafka on Ice_.


Presented by Buntport Theater through November 27,alternating with
_Macblank_, 720-946-1388,[6]
WHERE:717 Lipan Street

The parking lot is full, and cars line the curb onboth sides of the
street. Inside, people throng the lobby. A couple isbeing turned
away at the front desk: "I'm sorry. We're all soldout." When I first
visited this place a few years ago, there wereseven or eight people
in attendance, including myself and my friend. Nowword must be out
that this is the place to be on Saturday night: BuntportTheater, the
opening of _KAFKA ON ICE_.

We find seats andsettle in to clip-cloppy, '30s-style music that
sounds like theCharleston. We're going to be close enough to the
action to see the sweatshine on the actors' faces. There are rows of
chairs on all four sides ofa green square of artificial ice -- not
gleaming ice-rink stuff, butsomething that looks like ancient
linoleum, scratched and scuffed.

What on earth do these people at Buntport think they're doing? Franz
Kafka is a melancholy figure, a Prague-dwelling German Czech, steeped
inthe history of his time, the creator of a dwindling, despairing
art. Notnoisily or grandly despairing, but art that's a kind of
falling away, ahopeless whispering, the toneless song of _Josephine
the Mouse Singer_,the silent melting of flesh from bone in _The
Hunger Artist_, an art ofterror, self-loathing and wordless longing
for what can never be attained-- and all of it limned in that
precise bureaucrat's prose. Kafka'sbest-known works include a novel
about a man tried for an act he doesn'teven know has been committed
-- let alone by him -- and ultimatelyexecuted. Another describes a
castle from which it's impossible to escape.And then there's the
long short story called _The Metamorphosis_, whichalmost every high
school student knows and which begins, "As GregorSamsa awoke one
morning from uneasy dreams h e found himself transformedin his bed
into a gigantic insect."

But all of thesecheerful Saturday-night people haven't come here to
explore the sorrows ofold Europe. They've come for a good time. And
the Buntporters aren'texactly known for their worshipful treatment
of the classics. But then,they're not known for denigrating or
nullifying or being plain dumb aboutliterature, either. So what are
we going to see?

The bouncymusic stops. In the darkness that follows, we hear the
scritching of a penon paper, like the sounds of a skate blade on
ice. Under the suddenillumination of a single, bare lightbulb, we
see Kafka, played by GaryCulig, writing at a desk. Within minutes,
the rest of the cast has skatedon in impressive unison -- yes,
wearing real skates -- and the show takesoff.

_Kafka on Ice_ is part biography. It tells Kafka's story, abouthis
fear of his overbearing father, his unhappy love life, hisfriendship
with Max Brod, the way in which Gregor Samsa's predicamentrepresents
his own. But it also deals with the way a work like _The
Metamorphosis_ changes over time, as it passes through the minds of
friends, readers, critics, fellow writers, teachers and tricksters
likethe Buntport gang. So at one point you have the great novelist
VladimirNabokov (played by Erik Edborg) arguing that, contrary to
some criticalopinion, the insect in _The Metamorphosis_ is clearly a
beetle, not acockroach. Then there's a teacher (a hilarious
performance by ErinRollman) trying to communicate the idea of
symbolism to her bored classwhile peeping periodically at her own
cheat notes. The lights go out, anda voice reads a passage aloud in
the darkness, bringing clarity and focusto the words. When the
lights return, we watch a schoolboy cross t hestage with his satchel
on his back, reading as he walks.

_TheMetamorphosis_ goes through several transmutations: It's played
as farce,as an experiment with objects, as grinning, dancing musical

Buntport has its own way of dealing with Kafka's life story. The
writer's meeting with his first love, Felice, is shown as a scene in
asilent movie. She falls cutely about on the ice, while he,
Chaplin-like,attempts to rescue her -- all to the accompaniment of a
plinking piano.

This show is anything but Kafkaesque. It's lighthearted, giddy and
goofy. As written, the climax of _The Metamorphosis_ begins with a
heartbreaking scene in which Gregor is drawn from his seclusion by
thehaunting sound of his sister playing the violin. In _Kafka on
Ice_ --which has earlier referred to Kafka's thoughts on his own
Jewishness -- hehears the violin solo from _Fiddler on the Roof_.

Buntport creates an_Alice in Wonderland_ world where objects take
on their own life and shrinkand grow at will. The city of Prague is
represented by a pop-up in a book.Gregor Samsa is at one point a
glove puppet, seconds later aremote-controlled mechanical toy, and
finally, a costumed actor.

There are some really beautiful moments. Kafka sends Felice one of
hisstories to read; in her hands, it unfurls into the paper figure
of a man,and she dances with it. "The writing does quite well with
her,"observes Kafka. When Kafka proposes to another love, Milena,
his words aremade of light, flowing over the rows of audience
members, across the ersatzice and away up the walls. Her response is
a calligraphic"Yes."

I have a couple of quibbles. Every now and then,the script is
repetitive. Culig is a good actor, but he has anendearing,
vulnerable quality that doesn't feel quite right for Kafka.Brian
Colonna's Max Brod is pinch-faced, squeaky-voiced and veryamusing,
but too much of a caricature -- both as performed and asconceived.
The real Max Brod was far more than a leech who took advantageof
Kafka's fame; he was also the author's longtime friend and loyal
advocate. But all six actors do well. Erik Edborg has to stifle his
insanely anarchic instincts to play Kafka's heavy-handed father, and
itworks. Evan Weissman's turn as the charlady (in a uniform that's
pureFrench maid) is a hoot, as is Hannah Duggan's determined yet
perplexedexpression every time she skates across the stage with a
flour sack in hermouth (don't ask). As for Erin Rollman, I don't
have words to describe herperformance. She's a brilliant comic
universe unto herself.

Allof which explains the crowd in the lobby. It's safe to say that
no one else-- anywhere -- is doing theater like this.

WESTWORD.COM[7] |originally published: October 14, 2004


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