Sinking Ship Productions’ impressive stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s short story, A Hunger Artist, is a poignant and effective piece of theatre. To tell this powerful story, Jon Levin, Josh Luxenberg, and Joshua William Gelb employ great writing, acting, puppetry, audience participation, and creative elements of design in the set, costumes, lights and sound to deliver a full and impactful production.
Jon Levin in A Hunger Artist. Photo by Kelly Stuart.
The 75 minute one man show begins with a boisterous impresario who sets the stage with a large trunk-like box that proves to have a clever design. The impresario is acutely aware of his captive audience as he begins a small puppet theatre to tell us about the hunger artist and the art of hungering. After deciding that the toy theatre is too small, he invites members of the audience onto the stage to play parts in the typical fanfare that would occur on the hunger artist’s 40th day of fasting. Abruptly, the hunger artist appears in his small cage, and after the celebration dissipates, he demonstrates his dissatisfaction with how his art is perceived. Starvation as an art form is rather absurd to begin with, yet the hunger artist’s desire to continue his art after its popularity has passed is hardly understandable. To watch this character struggle is to question how far an artist will go for their art, and the answer is the blunt inevitable.
Jon Levin is absolutely incredible. As the impresario and circus master, he is vibrant and charismatic, and his timing is impeccable. As the hunger artist, he is somber and silent, and his fragile looking body is surprisingly strong and dexterous. The technical aspects are done so well that it allows Levin to carry this production with sheer vitality and unquestionable skill.
Jon Levin in A Hunger Artist. Set Design by Peiyi Wong. Photo by Kelly Stuart.
Starting with Josh Luxenberg’s writing, the tone of A Hunger Artist captures the nihilistic and macabre traits of Kafka’s original story, often pitting merriment and celebration against depression and desolation. From the period costumes and set design by Peiyi Wong to the versatile lighting by Kate McGee, every element is for the purpose of telling this story and creating an unforgettable experience. The puppets, designed by Charlie Kanev and Sarah Nolan, add an inventive display of character to the performance, both literally and figuratively. M Florian Staab’s sound design frames every moment of Joshua William Gelb’s direction – they are integral to each other.
A Hunger Artist is the epitome of how theatrical elements can be used to turn incredible stories into transformative works of art. If you’re looking for an excellent piece of theatre, I urge you to see this powerful performance.
A Hunger Artist: Sinking Ship Productions via The Tank’s Flint & Tinder series, Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street. Runs through June 27. Purchase tickets at www.thetanknyc.org