Arts & Events

Theater Review: A Man's Home

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday February 23, 2011 - 11:56:00 AM

"Time for you to leave ... " 


"But I've just arrived ... " 



This exchange between K. the land surveyor and one of the many village characters he meets on his endless way to The Castle is almost the hook to Central Works' production of A Man's Home ... An Ode to Kafka's Castle, as written and directed by Aaron Henne--a constant vaudeville sideshow, deflecting K.--who's been summoned, after all--from his quest into side issues, other personalities than that of Kron, the apparent overlord. 


But are they side issues, red herrings? Or the heart of the matter, after all? As these characters often insist, there's no difference--at all--between the village and The Castle.  


Henne's play, and this production developed through the Central Works collaborative process, give a voice to Kafka's strange humor, something often left out in translations, acted-out representations of his enigmatic works. Max Brod, Kafka's confidante and literary executor, wrote of the hilarious sessions when the author would read his work to a roomful of laughing friends in Prague. Among stage and screen adaptations, I can only think of Steven Berkoff's version of The Trial at the National in London during the 90s (Berkoff staged Metamorphosis in New York, too, with Baryshnikov as "the bug") and Orson Welles' film of The Trial that have been successful at translating that humor off the page. 


The actors--Theo Black, Sylvia Kratins, Marissa Keltie and Joe Jordan--take on their kaleidoscopic roles (excepting Black as K) with stylized gestures and staging, able to both narrate and act out the action and comment on atmosphere and thought, as well. It's a motile storybook, but for adults, and with no moral--and they're not just illustrating the words; they embody them. 


It's sometimes like a verbal ping-pong game: 


"I have a position ..." 


"Yes; you are standing ..." 




"I beg your pardon?" 


"Yes; beg ... " 


Hard to keep this gamey thing up onstage in ensemble, but the stylization of the A Man's Home cast grows less arch with each suggestive gesture, each bemused expression. Joe Jordan is particularly good at this shape-shifting repartee, playing an innkeeper's wife, the village mayor, a quick glimpse of Kron himself ... encountered over and over by K. in different guises as he shuttles around a labyrinth, which may--as Borges quoted Chesterton--be the most frightening maze of all, one without a center. 


The humor culminates, deliberately giving itself away, in self-mocking lines that carry a moral undertow: 


"The trick is, not to let a duty become a passion." 


There's a note inside the program, in lieu of director's comments, from St. Teresa of Avila, which concludes: "We trouble little about tending to the soul's beauty. All our attention is instead focused on the rough matrix of the diamond, the outer walls of the castle ..." 


The design--Gary Graves' lighting, Tammy Berlin's costuming, Jan Zvaifler's props--and the set credited to all three--as well as Gregory Scharpen's sound is Central Works at its best--spare yet ubiquitous, utilizing every inch of the City Club to advantage, from a floor strewn with crumpled scraps of scribbled text to floral motifs in the niches on the walls of the old salon. 


It's an unusual show--and an unusual production for Central Works, which make it that much more important--and a pleasure--to see. 


Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5 through March 13 (5 p.m. performances Saturdays, March 5 and 12), Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant. $24 online, $25-$14 sliding scale at door. 558-1381;