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Kafka on the Shore
Frank Galati's latest Steppenwolf offering is a suitably fluid, pictorially imaginative but exasperatingly oblique adaption of a novel by Japanese fantasist Haruki Murakami (whose work was first seen at Steppenwolf in "after the quake"). It all but evaporates as you watch it. Dispensing with linearity or logic, it depicts the loss of innocence of a 15-year-old Tokyo boy named Kafka whose troubled life parallels that of Oedipus as he searches for—what, he doesn't know and we never learn. As the play pointedly puts it, "Having no connection seems perfectly right."
Kafka's shore is the border between the real and the imagined. This two-hour puzzlement crosses that line more times than an audience will want to follow. Along the way we meet Nakata, a man who, wounded by a mysterious gas attack 66 years ago, talks to cats and encounters spirits disguised as Colonel Sanders and Johnny Walker. Accompanied by his alter ego, Kafka finds refuge in a library where he mates with a surrogate mother as he hides from the police who believe he murdered his father.
Far from solidifying as it goes, Kafka on the Shore subtracts rather than adds up, its perplexing plot filled to bursting with mysterious entities like an iconic entrance stone, lost soldiers from World War II who haunt a wood, children paralyzed by unseen forces, lightning storms that illuminate nothing. Just as things suddenly spring up in our sleep, James Schuette's intriguing set pieces drop down, roll in or pop up through trap doors, at first enthralling but ultimately mystifying. Seldom has a show seemed so much to make itself up as it goes.
"Chance encounters keep us going" is the trenchant lesson here, but, like much here, it's insubstantial and vanishes like a dream. We're left with performances that persuade more by look than language. These include handsome Christopher Larkin's sweetly sincere teenager, Jon Michael Hill as his athletic alter ego, Lisa Tejero's maternal librarian, and David Rhee's brain-damaged survivor. They're convincing but their context is not. Make of this what you will, one reason why Kafka. . . will receive a different review from every critic. Ordinarily that reveals a power in the play but not here.
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