Kafka Dances by Timothy Daly
Review by Veronica Kelly
La Boite once more scoops up an excellent new Australian play and gives it a committed and energetic reading. Not since Cosi has Brisbane seen a script of comparable complexity, whose engaging comic surface barely conceals painful depths.
Australian involvement in Vietnam underlies the one, while shadowing Daly's characters is the tragic fate about to overtake central European Jewry. Is it a coincidence that both plays advance notions of the therapeutic and cathartic role of theatricality in negotiating history's dark passages?
Plays celebrating theatre can scarcely fail to charm, but Kafka Dances has more to offer than just giving the third oldest profession a friendly tummy tickle. Kafka's uneasy sleep is invaded by a clamorous troupe of old-style Yiddish actors, just when he is both deeply disturbed and attracted by the prospect of founding a family with the sane and organised Felice (Jenny Hall).
Closer acquaintance with Kafka's own family indicates ample reasons for this ambivalence. His horrible father (John Heywood) is peremptory in his denunciations of vegetarianism, Christians, and anyone who shouts louder than he does. His mum (Bev Langford) manages to ignore anything relevant, while his sister Ottla is engaged in a strident battle of wills with her father, which brings out the bully and liar in both of them.
No wonder poor stuttering Franz finds his voice and a kind of liberation in his nightly dream theatre, which cannot however release him from fears too deep for containment; fears which find eventual expression in the most resonant and chilling fables of modern literature.
For Vilé ‘s Yiddish troupe only the energy of melodrama is found, but not its charismatic authority as the realism of dream life. These maybe old-fashioned players by today's lights, but are surely not meant to be mere hams - there is little indication that these ragged thesps embody the repressed soul of an entire people.
Eugene Gilfedder turns in a central performance of charm and subtlety with just the right hint of gothic grotesquery.
Never afraid of his character being laughed at, he can transform audience mirth to awed silence by a tiny gesture. Siobhan Lawless makes Ottla determined and vulnerable, and her battles for freedom provide a strong core of conflict. It's a treasure of a play.
The Australian, 12 May 1995