Franz Kafka’s short story
There is an important and admirable message behind Kafka’s Ape.
As the eponymous ape, Howard Rosenstein gives an incredible performance. His physicality is flawless: leaping around the auditorium with hunched back and wild eyes, then awkwardly straightening up by his lectern to continue his speech. He is utterly convincing as the newly humanised ape and his perspiration shows just how much effort it is taking to sustain such a commanding performance.
It is a shame then that Sprung’s adaptation doesn’t live up to heights of Rosenstein’s towering presence. By updating the focus of the satire to American foreign policy, Sprung gives himself almost too broad a target. Yes, the message is easier to relate to than Kafka’s original and it is easy to picture Red Peter as a hand-to-hand combat instructor but the political nature of the humour can’t help but come across as very heavy handed. The piece tries to make a number of undeniably important points about the commercialisation of warfare and the economic and physical subjugation of humanity in contemporary culture – some of these it succeeds in making well but others are made with the subtlety of the weapons that Red Peter now sells for Graywater. The name of the company itself is a lazy take on Blackwater, the American PMC whose former guards were sentenced for slaughtering unarmed Iraqi civilians, and is instructive of the level of satire often displayed here.
Clearly then there is an important and admirable message behind Kafka’s Ape. However, despite a terrific central performance, one can’t help but feel it would have been more effective for Sprung to ape Kafka’s formal subtlety a little more.