Puppets, But Why?

That Franz Kafka had issues with his father is perhaps common knowledge. That these issues influenced his work, particularly “The Judgment” and “The Metamorphosis” is also well known.  And so along comes Drama of Works, a renowned puppet theater, to split Kafka into three versions of himself in order to depict art imitating life. While the depiction is successful, it is unclear if it was necessary.  Kafka #1 is a wooden marionette, carved by Miroslav Trejtnar. The marionette has sunken cheeks and a sad disposition and is accompanied by a hacking cough. Kafka #2 is simply a wooden letter K, of which there are various sizes depending on how much control K has of the situation.  The third puppet is Gregor-Bug, complete with long feelers and six legs. That Kafka is a puppet is reflective of how he approached life—he could never speak out to his father (his thoughts scribbled down in a letter that was never sent), his engagement was eventually broken off, as he only communicated with his fiancée, Felicia (here represented by the letter “F”) through writing.   Puppet Kafka’s method of story-telling is fragmented. “The Metamorphosis” is cut in with episodes from Kafka’s own life as well as added “interrogation scenes” where Greta, the Mother, and the Father are interviewed by a empty suit puppet. Its story is where the piece falls down.  Chopping up “The Metamorphosis” makes it difficult to delve into the story of Gregor and his plight, as the audience is quickly pulled out of it and into the story of Kafka the man or the letter. The parallels between the man and his creation are evident and it seems redundant to hammer them home. Additionally, the interrogation scenes, meant to bring other Kafka works to mind, are unnecessary and add to the story where the story alone should suffice.   Though the story feels forced, and its attempt to examine the parallels between life and art obvious, the visual presentation of the play is stunning. The set is half sized, so that the puppets fit nicely but the human actors overrule the playing space. The balance between actors and puppets is finely maintained—this isn’t the type of puppetry where the puppeteer remains hidden behind a curtain. In fact, the visible puppeteering serves as yet another reminder of how outside forces acted upon and controlled Kafka and Gregor (pre-Bug and as Bug).   The puppets are a mix of traditional marionettes and found object constructions. Kafka finds himself interrogated by desk lamps while the boarder the Samsas take in are represented by shadows on the wall. The two most creatively constructed puppets were Gregor-Bug and the cleaning lady. Gregor-Bug consists of two overturned bread baskets, dish scrubbers, and long feathers while the charwoman puppet was made of a mop and a dusting brush, with a carved sponge for her face. Additionally, the two puppeteer/actors playing Gregor-Bug and the charwoman did an excellent job in bringing their puppets to life.   Puppet Kafka purports to examine the parallels between life and art, and what better way to do so then by mixing live actors with inanimate puppets? However, the way Puppet Kafka unfolds makes one wonder if the parallels need to be or should be examined in such a framework, as the stories are weakened by being cut up and mixed together. The presentation is pleasant and the concept intriguing, but Puppet Kafka never gets to the why and wherefore of the matter.

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