Arts & Events

Theater Review: Eye from the Aisle: A Man’s Home

By John A. McMullen II
Monday February 21, 2011 - 06:33:00 PM
Marissa Keltie, Theo Black & Sylvia Kratins.
Jay Yamada
Marissa Keltie, Theo Black & Sylvia Kratins.

There are two words that cause confusion because they have but one letter difference: tortuous and torturous. The former means full of twists, turns, or bends, perhaps like a labyrinth; the latter, painfully difficult or slow. For Aaron Henne’s A Man’s HomeCentral Works’ first offering of their season— both words apply. 

Ironically, the acting and the precision of the choreography and staging are a tour de force, and the ensemble of Theo Black, Joe Jordan, Marissa Keltie and Sylvia Kratins, and auteur Henne’ s staging are to be lauded for the plan and performance. The emotion and subtext the actors infuse into the absurdist dialogue is intriguing. As performance art, this is excellent. It is just that at 45 minutes it would be art, but at 90 minutes it turns into an endless, intermission-less enigma. If you are a Kafka scholar, perhaps you will be amused, but allusions to the specifics in Kafka—in this case “The Castle”—are esoteric at best and often tediously puzzling. 

The pre-show music was a nerve-wracking old scratchy recording of polka-like ethnic music with a screechy vocalist that presaged the experience. Otherwise, the sound design and effects of Gregory Scharpen are wondrous, particularly in their meticulous timing with the actions. 

The actors are in muted white-face make-up which supports their well-timed and expressive miming. The room is white, the floor is lacquered white, and the set consists of piles of the crumpled paper litter of Kafka’s rejected writings. Tammy Berlin’s costumes reflect the period but the palette is browns and muted plaids; the only color is the red in the sleeve garters of K. Gary Graves’ lighting is likewise colorless, but done masterfully, isolating characters and scenes and changing moods. 

My emotional response was a mental picture of Munch’s Skrik with a caption of “Let me out of here!”; it makes one feel as if one is trapped like Kafka in the circuitous bureaucracy he railed against in his writings. There is no exit from the room at the Julia Morgan, so be prepared. If you do not know the story, I strongly suggest that you Google “The Castle, Kafka, Wikipedia” and get some background so that you might eke out some connections to keep you from feeling like you are imprisoned for an unnamed crime.  

Still, Central Works is a Berkeley treasure, and their experimentation deserves applause. 

A MAN'S HOME... an ode to Kafka's Castle  

Written and directed by Aaron Henne (A Central Works Method Play) 

Plays through Mar 13 

at the Berkeley City Club (which is also known as Julia Morgan’s “Little Castle”) 2315 Durant near Dana