Review: Sinking Ship’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ feeds the soul

How it’s New York: The show takes place at the Connelly Theater, one of those theaters inside an old school (?) you may never

Jon Levin in ‘A Hunger Artist.’ Photo by
Kelly Stuart

have known was there but is wonderful, and is presented by The Tank’s Flint & Tinder series, which makes space available to artists.
How it’s Irish: It’s Celto-Slav, really. But the Irish do have an affinity for Kafka.

Sinking Ship Productions
The Connelly Theater
220 East Fourth Street (between Avenues A & B)
Through Tuesday, June 27
Presented by The Tank


Sinking Ship Productions adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” makes you want to stand up and cheer.

It’s only June and I’m calling it now as possibly the best solo performance of the year.

It’s smart. It’s funny (and Kafka is really funny. Seriously, he is. The word “Kafkaesque” really should mean dread AND FUNNY, not just  scary as Hell. Though it’s scary as Hell too).

And it’s highly theatrical.

Inventive. Fresh. Physical.

Presented by The Tank, at the Connelly Theater (one of those theaters in an old building you probably have never been to), this is a work that is everything new theater should be.

And astonishingly, all of the roles are played by performer Jonathan Levin, including the fat producer, and the skeletal Hunger Artist. (more…)

‘The Present’: a small gift inside a big box

How it’s New York: ‘The Present’ with Cate Blanchett runs on Broadway, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
How it’s (Irish) Australian: Blanchett hails from Melbourne, Australia; the show comes to us via the the Sydney Theatre Company. Since itis an adaptation of Chekhov’s “Platonov,” his  early (and really, untitled) play, this show is also “Celto-Slav” and Russian.

It helps to read the play first.

That’s an unusual suggestion for me– usually I like to let a work stand by itself. But here, it really helps to know what the set-up is before you go. Even if you just read an act or two.

All of the elements of Anton Chekhov’s later plays are already there in his early work known as “Platonov.” Chekhov didn’t name the play, discovered 20 years after he died himself, and it has been called “Platonov,” “Wild Honey,” and “The Disinherited,” among others; it’s been adapted by Michael Frayn and David Hare; directed with rich theatrical gesture by Jiri Pokorny. Uncut, the play would last about six hours. But it’s all there: ennui. Fading, poor aristocracy. Possibility of a marriage of salvation. Empty trysts. A smart, disillusioned, unfulfilled schoolteacher.

So there’s much to love about “The Present,” an adaptation of that early work by Andrew Upton (Blanchett’s husband), directed by John Crowley. If anyone knew how to put people, hurt, dissatisfied, unpredictable people, in a room together and see what happened, it was Chekhov (Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” owes him a lot).

Blanchett is completely luminous in her Broadway debut as Anna, a young widow who is celebrating her 40th birthday by inviting several suitors and friends to spend the weekend with her at her country estate.

That little synopsis, though, is more than you might figure out for quite a while, all but the 40th birthday bit, which is announced. (more…)

Suicide is painfully funny: ‘Dying for It’

How it’s New York: Atlantic Theater Company is one of New York’s best, edgiest Off-Broadway companies.New York Music Photographer | Ahron R. Foster
How it’s Irish: Moira Buffini is an Irish playwright. There’s a reference to a shebeen (doesn’t make sense in Soviet Russia, but we’ll go with it.

Suicide is painless.

Or not. When Semyon Semyonovich Podeskalnikov (Joey Slotnick) decides to off himself, disgusted with his unemployed status in Soviet Russia, living off his wife in one of those apartments like the ones in “Ninotchka” where curtains separate different homes (set design by Walt Spangler) the decision unexpectedly makes him a celebrity.

That’s the premise of “Dying for It,” adapted by Moira Buffini from Nikolai Erman’s 1928 play (usually called “The Suicide”). As the play wears on you can see why it was banned by Stalin: there’s a lot of criticism of the Revolution, and by extension, the government, here.

As different factions vie to get Semyon to dedicate his suicide note to them– the Intelligentsia, the Artists, the Romantics– the play is amusing but a little schematic. But wait. There’s a lot more lurking underneath this play than an easy joke. Which is not to say that there aren’t big belly laughs, because there are.

As directed by Neil Pepe, “Dying for It” offers exquisite comedy from a top-notch cast. They make the  sucker punches that follow hurt that much more.


Kafka Translated

How it’s New York: Michelle Woods teaches at SUNY New Paltz, and on top of that, I’m pretty sure the word “Kafkaesque” was coined in New York. If not, it should
Franz Kafka had a touch of the Celt in his humor

Franz Kafka had a touch of the Celt in his humor

have been. There will be a launch for the book at the Czech Center in the city on Feb. 11. Be there!
How it’s Irish: Michelle is half-Irish, half-Czech, and on top of that, one of Kafka’s contemporary re-translators is Irish.

So, finally, it’s out! My book, Kafka Translated: How Translators have Shaped our Reading of Kafka
might be best explained by its subtitle, “How Translators Have Shaped Our Reading of Kafka” – by translators, I mean translators, but also adaptors.

And, it may not seem so, but there is actually an Irish connection:

one of the contemporary re-translators, Mark Harman, is Irish, although he has lived and taught in the States for 30 years. Thanks to a fascinating interview with him, I explore not only his Irishness and its effect on Kafka’s prose in English, but also the effect of his Irish literary background, especially Harman’s love of Beckett. When he was re-translating The Castle for Schocken publishers, he went back and re-read Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy, and, in my book, I look at the effect that this re-reading of Beckett informs the new Kafka.


A Keats and Chapman moment

How it’s New York: In NYC, as in Prague, literary figures can bump into each other in unexpected ways.keatschapman
How it’s Irish: Kevin Holohan is Irish, and is thinking about the Irish author Flann O’Brien, and his silly, sometimes groan-inducing book, “The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman,” as he writes his own– set in Prague.

With all due respect and admiration for the Keats and Chapman vehicle  invented by Flann O’Brien aka Myles na gCopaleen, who among us has not had a Keats and Chapman moment? A play on words so contrived and twisted that only Keats and Chapman together can possibly bear its excruciating weight. This is mine:

It so happened that Keats and Chapman were visiting Prague when they ran into the young Franz Kafka.
Kafka, though reluctant to insinuate himself into their company happily obliged when Keats asked if he would show them around the beautiful city. After a long walking tour during which they stopped several times to sample the local beers, the three of them found themselves in Prague Castle.
Somewhat inebriated, Chapman challenged Kafka to don a suit of armor and bet him ten shillings he could not do so. Kafka, not an avaricious man but one who could not turn his nose up at an easy ten shillings, quickly took a suit of armor from the landing where the three of them stood unobserved.
Unfortunately while helping to secure the breastplate, Keats stumbled and sent the unfortunate Kafka tumbling down the stairs and into a case filled with china figurines. The inevitable crashing brought the custodian rushing to the scene. Finding the figure in the armor too stunned to communicate, the custodian berated Keats and Chapman and pointed out the damage and demanded immediate reparations. Keats, taking Chapman by the arm and guiding him towards the exit smiled winningly at the custodian and, nodding at the supine figure on the floor reassuringly promised,
“Fear not sir, the Czech is in the mail.”

West was the ‘Czech Heritage Capital of Texas’

How it’s New York: New Yorkers know what it’s like to live through catastrophe, both man-made and natural.Czech-flag
How it’s Irish: It’s Celto-Slav.

 Did you know the Texas town just bombed was the Czech Heritage Capital of Texas? It’s sad it takes a tragedy to learn something we’d want to know.

Town hit by explosion known for its Czech heritage (via Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

WEST — Before an earth-shaking explosion at a fertilizer plant shattered the town, this community of 2,800 people outside Waco was known as the “Czech Heritage Capital of Texas.” A band of accordion players would often regale nursing home residents with polka-heavy favorites. A Czech dance was…