Howard Rosenstein plays Redpeter in the stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s short story ‘A Report to An Academy’

The lifestyle of a human being is often very unlike the way the rest of the animal kingdom exists, and it can become easy to forget that we, Homo Sapiens, are animals as well. Guy Sprung’s play, Kafka’s Ape, shows through the eyes of an outsider the absurd, and sometimes cruel, rituals, customs and behaviours that humans engage in as part of our existence at the top of the food chain.

Based on Franz Kafka’s short story, A Report to An Academy, Kafka’s Ape was adapted for the stage as well as for modern, North American audiences. Redpeter was a wild ape who was captured and caged on the Gold Coast of Africa. He tells the story of how he escaped the cage by learning how to become a walking, talking, spitting, drinking, mercenary soldier of the Peace Industry.

“The interesting thing about this play is that audience members are seeing a man (the actor) playing an ape, who’s playing a man and trying to fit in,” said Howard Rosenstein, who plays Redpeter. “In the process of trying to go through the three layers, there’s an opportunity to reflect a mirror to the audience, and to humanity in general, about the things we do, see and feel in our lives.”

The play is in the form of a keynote speech that Redpeter is making to the shareholders of Graywater Corporation, the military corporation who captured him and with whom he has served several tours of duty. While telling his story, Redpeter is at times overcome with emotion at the cruelties he has faced, and sometimes still incredulous at the rituals and customs of man. He was particularly disgusted by his first taste of whiskey, but learned quickly that drinking it would be one of the most important things he could do to become respected as a man.

“I say Kafka was a genius to use animals as characters in some of his stories,” said Howard. “It allows audiences to step back and not feel like it was about them, although of course it was and still is. It gives us a certain safety to feel like the story isn’t about us, and provides the space for us to consider what this animal is going through without feeling put on the spot. Initially, anyway.”

The story of struggling to fit into a new community and never quite being able to shake the feeling of being an outsider is universally relatable. The story of Redpeter’s existence as an outsider to humanity will leave audience members with a new sense of awareness of the rituals and customs we partake in to ensure everyone is kept in their respective place.

Kafka’s Ape, with Howard Rosenstein in the main role, has been in production for four years, with over 100 performances. “Performing the play so many times over the past four years has been an incredible opportunity,” said Howard. “It’s not often in the Montreal English Theatre community that you get the chance to let a character sink into your pores and really know it the way I’ve been able to, which provides a certain quality you might not normally get in a piece like this.”

Kafka’s Ape is running until November 18. For more information, click here.

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