Kafka’s Ape (Infinitheatre) 2014 SummerWorks Review

Kafka's Ape

Kafka’s Ape, a sweltering primate named Redpeter, played with astonishing force by Howard Rosenstein in this traveling production currently showing at Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival, is angry.

He’s had his animal natured forcibly ripped out of him by a profiteering military corporation, spent his life doing the most soul-destroying work imaginable, and now he’s gotten himself drunk. For the esteemed shareholders (played by the audience) of Graywater Corporation, a leader in the so-called “peace industry,” it’s probably not quite the celebratory note they were expecting for their Annual General Meeting. But as theatre, it’s disasterously entertaining.

Yes, this is a play about a talking ape, performed by a man in an elaborate ape costume (not to mention a tuxedo). And boy, can he talk. Redpeter is literate, loquacious, and given to intricate metaphors, which Rosenstein delivers with a luxurious southern accent. What makes Rosenstein’s acting so fascinating is how, despite his genteel, antebellum mannerisms, Redpeter is clearly seething with barely contained rage. It’s actually pretty scary.

Kafka’s Ape is staged at The Gladstone Hotel, where audiences can order drinks and arrange themselves around tables in a room decorated with the Graywater logo: the Statue of Liberty holding a sword instead of a torch. Two screens to either side of the podium where Redpeter is supposed to be delivering his speech periodically display promotional videos for the corporation—optimistic commercials for war and tyranny, much like how the army advertises itself on TV.

The play is based on a short piece of fiction by Franz Kafka titled A Report to an Academy. In the original, Redpeter manages to painfully suppress his ape nature by imitating humans while in captivity, ultimately becoming human himself. Despite this incredible feat, the only work he’s able to get for himself is in the circus, making the depressing point that no matter what he accomplishes, his value to humans is fixed.

Director Guy Sprung, who did the adaptation, retains the theme of humans keeping each other down, but in the much more sinister sense of private military companies. What is perhaps even more palpable than Redpeter’s violent bitterness at his own plight is Sprung’s outrage at the existence of socially accepted mercenary institutions, such as the famous Blackwater company, now renamed to the purposely boring Acedemi.

Fair warning: the real draw of this show is Rosenstein’s exhilarating performance, but this is still participatory theatre, and you may suddenly find an ape shrieking in your ear. Sit in the front row and prepare to be joined by Redpeter’s wife, Mrs. Redpeter (Alexandra Montagnese), who so far hasn’t transcended her ape nature, and behaves accordingly. Clearly, animals will be animals… even when they’re humans.


Kafka’s Ape plays at The Gladstone Hotel

Show times:

Thursday August 7, 8:00pm
Friday August 8, 8:00pm
Sunday August 10, 2:00pm
Tuesday August 12, 8:00pm
Wednesday August 13, 8:00pm
Thursday August 14, 8:00pm
Friday August 15, 8:00pm
Saturday August 16, 8:00pm
Sunday August 17, 2:00pm

All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, or in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.

Photo provided by the company