Imagination

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kafka-on-the-shore.jpgAt the beginning of the audience talkback right after the performance of Kafka on the Shore, Frank Galati’s radiant adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel, that I attended, someone rightly asked Steppenwolf Theater Associate Artistic Director, David New, “So could you tell us what this means?”. I am an avid Murakami fan, and when I read “Kafka” several years ago, I found it compelling, poetic, vividly etched like one of those rare dreams that give you a sense of triumph and boundless energy when you wake up. I also found it elusive, evanescent, intellectually challenging, full of metaphors and references that were almost, at times, indecipherable. It was a great example of a truly metaphysical novel, with the twist of Japanese magical realism- quintessential Murakami. So I was really curious to see how Galati would take the qualities that were great on the page and translate them into equally great theater. Unlike “After the Quake”, the collection of short stories that Galati also dramatized a couple of Steppenwolf seasons ago, I thought “Kafka” – with its reordering of time and space, its fusing of characters points of view such that you wonder whether one was an extension, a doppelganger, or a reverse mirror image of the other, it’s surreal imagery- was more permeable, less able to be taken into a literal context , something that is, most of the time, important in live theater. I think Kafka on the Shore, the play, is terrific, which I enjoyed a lot, but it is not for all theatrical tastes and sensibilities (people who are heavily left-brained, or who have pretty conventional concepts around what theater is, would be terribly frustrated). I admire Steppenwolf for courageously selecting this play as their first play of the new season, despite the risk that it will leave audiences cold and alienated, since it does set the right tone for the theater’s focus on the theme of “imagination” (something that I think we will all be better off if we had some more of; there were a LOT of people who left their rations at home during the performance I attended).

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