Theater and Concert Reviews.
'The Penal Colony'
by ROBERT MASSIMI 12 months ago in ENTERTAINMENT An Interpretation of Kafka.Robert Massimi.
The Penal Colony is an interpretation of Kafka's The Penal Colony. From Kafka, it is a novella about three men; the traveler, the soldier, and the condemned man set to be executed. In the book, the traveler is invited to witness the execution of a soldier who disobeys his superior. Out of politeness, the traveler agrees to come along to a small valley that is closed off on both sides. With only the three present for the execution, the soldier goes through the apparatus that will eventually kill the man in question. It is cold and calculating how the soldier goes about it, almost relishing the other man's death.
The condemned man is in chains, he is worn in his appearance, he is, to Kafka's description, still obedient as dog like, "that if you released him then whistled, he would come back." Kafka questions in his novella why this man is condemned, and why he must die like this. Also brought into question in the novella is how are the rules applied to some men, but not others. Kafka then further breaks down the story as to put it in society's terms, how the haves get more breaks than the have not's. This meek, humble servant is going to die, and what for is the question that Kafka asks the reader.
The Penal Colony at the New York Theater Workshop is a modern body of work on Kafka's novella. Three black actors play the roles of the three in the book. Set on a modest stage, writer Miranda Haymon gives us an interpretation of what she sees in modern society. She incorporates sports, Hip-Hop, and dance into the show. This intimate setting gives the audience an up close and personal view of the actors as they move about in heavy prison suits (Kafka had mentioned the heavy attire for the desert).
Haymon tries to bring forth a political message that blacks are seen only as entertainers and athletes, as we watch the three actors doing football rolls, taking jump shots and boxing. We also get a fair share of Hip-Hop music, and the improv of Hip-Hop artists moving about to a DJ soundboard. The staging is well done, as is the lighting, on a very interesting stage. The actors move about very deftly, as their roles' demand a lot of effort. Under strong direction, the actors are constructed well throughout the sixty minutes.
Haymon, in this show, tries to put forth the racial bigotry of the blacks over time. We hear Muhammad Ali tell us over the sound system as to why he does not want to go to Vietnam. We also hear the plight of blacks in America today. We see that the blacks are expected to sing, dance, and play sports, but Haymon omits that this is exactly how all minorities climbed out of the ghettos. People like Rocky Marciano, Joe Di DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and on and on did exactly what many blacks in sports are doing today. Should I go on about the great singers that did the same thing? Sinatra, Dean Martin and James Cagney to name just a few.
In The Penal Colony is a one hour show, it is too short to get any meaningful message across to us other than blacks were discriminated against. The show has some good songs, "Singing Man Working On The Chain Gang," and "It's Early In The Morning" has some humor to it, but it never goes deep enough into the plot. We have to guess at what is being performed on stage too much. Although pretty well-directed, the book is just not that strong, and as a result, the message is never really that deep. We understand what Haymon is trying to get across, it's not very deep, however. Haymon only scratches a small surface in this show, throws out only generalities, and nothing of any great substance.
In Kafka we have a short novella, but one that is very concise, well thought of, and put forth like a marching soldier. In this show, we have a mish-mosh of little things here and there. Just to say that blacks are discriminated against is not enough, we needed to see the feelings of these characters more, we needed to feel their pain, we needed more emotion. To juxtapose a body of work from a great writer like Kafka, one must get inside this great writer's head and his main thought process.
The three actors keep this show moving, as they do a great job in this 60 minute show. Costumes are very effective and interesting. The dances and images are also good. In The Penal Colony comes up short on anything meaningful in the way of teaching us anything. Haymon throws up a jump ball, and hopes for the best.
Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, The Chain Gang, James Cagney, Dean Martin, Rocky Marciano, Kafka, Haymon, Vietnam, off Broadway.