A Kafkaesque family drama

In the decades since he died, the work of Franz Kafka has become synonymous with nightmarishly complex scenarios.

In the decades since he died, the work of Franz Kafka has become synonymous with nightmarishly complex scenarios.

His most famous piece of writing, Metamorphosis, is about a man waking up to find that he’s been turned into a bug.

His words had such an impact that the term Kafkaesque has entered the English language meaning something “marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity.”

According to Kafka, that was all thanks to his father, Hermann.

“My writing was all about you; all I did there, after all, was to bemoan what I could not bemoan upon your breast,” he wrote in a 50-page undelivered letter.

Written in 1919, the letter has become the central document biographers use to examine Kafka’s early life, according to Canadian actor and playwright Alon Nashman.

For the last 10 years, Nashman has performed the one-man show that he adapted from the letter, Kafka and Son. The play will be in Whitehorse this week.

The letter that it is based on is intensely personal and critical.

“You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you,” Kafka starts off.

“As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking.”

Both men died long before the letter was found and published, so we may never know how accurately Kafka described their relationship.

On stage Nashman plays both Kafka and his father, who is conjured up in parts of the letter.

Instead of being a biographical retelling, the letter is about Kafka’s struggle to understand his father and imagine his point of view, Nashman said.

He described it as “one mind, that’s split down the middle.”

“He is trying to whittle away at the truth and he’s trying to address his own prejudice. He’s trying to give his father his view,” said Nashman before boarding a plane to Whitehorse Monday.

“He’s trying not to be vindictive and irrational but he can’t help himself. And that’s the drama of it. It is very much a subjective version of events and you’re watching somebody struggle.”

As the story goes, Kafka asked his mom to deliver the letter. She read it and thought that was a bad idea.

“Arguably it was the good choice,” Nashman said.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to write everything down to purge yourself of whatever is hindering you. But then you don’t necessarily need to confront the other party with it.”

As he writes, Kafka is sorrowful and vindictive as well as funny and analytical, Nashman said. He’s living an unhappy life still living at home, a petty bureaucrat and a failed artist.

Kafka would never know the success that his writing would achieve. He died at 41, about five years after he wrote the letter.

Nashman calls Kafka one of the most self-revealing writers of all time.

“He shows parts of himself that most of us would shy away from and even writers, even autobiographical writers, don’t reveal their inner shame and pain as clearly as he did and with such an absurd sense of humour as he did.”

Nashman has performed across North America and Europe but acknowledges that Kafka never intended for the intensely personal letter to be made so public.

“At the same time, there’s a quality to even his journal writing that has an eye to an audience outside of himself,” he said.

“It’s hard to explain, but when you experience the play you’ll see that he seems to be appealing to an outside force to side with him as if he’s arguing to a jury or a judge.”

It’s that part of the writing, the plea to an outside audience, that allows Nashman to feel comfortable that he’s not doing anything improper airing the dirty laundry on stage, he said.

“He’s making a case that if any objective person were looking at this, they would side with him. Then, in a very clever and self-effacing way, he imagines what the father would have said in response to his arguments.”

For audiences, the play is a challenge to look at your own relationships with the same level of honesty and scrutiny, Nashman said.

“It invites a self-reflection. It’s not so much about Kafka and learning about his life, it’s an invitation to get involved in a wrestle with one’s own psyche.”

The play is happening at the Old Fire Hall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22.

Contact Ashley Joannou at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read