First Floor Theater Presents Kafkapalooza Review- Modern Takes on Old Writings

In a small theater on the third floor of an old Wicker Park building, members of First Floor Theater prepare for their third annual literary festival, Kafkapalooza, running August 14 – August 22 at Collaboraction’s Pentagon Theater in The Flat Iron Arts Building. During the course of this 90-minute performance, audience members are able to enjoy eight world premiere plays by some of Chicago’s most exciting playwrights. The catch, each performance is in some way shape or from inspired by the life and work of Franz Kafka, an influential author or the 20th century. 

Eric Gerard, Chris Saunders, Quenna Barrett, and Brian Hurwitz in The Old Ball Game in First Floor Theater's Kafkapalooza, written by Kristiana Rae Colón, and directed by Tara Branham.

If you aren’t too familiar with Mr. Kafka, here is a quick run down of his biography. Born in Prague in 1883, Franz was brought up in a middle-class Jewish family. His family suffered tragedy as his two younger brothers died in infancy, leaving Kafka with the company of his sister. Both Kafka’s parents did not approve of his writings, and therefore became great impacts on his dark pieces. Although he was Jewish, Kafka preferred the German culture and moved to Berlin to focus on his writings. He died of tuberculosis shortly after. His friend, Max Brod, published most of his work.

Briana Finegan and Nora Bingham in The Applicant in First Floor Theater's Kafkapalooza, written by Amanda Fink, and directed by Claire Stone.

Kafka, who lived a tragic life, was able to inspire Chicago’s writers through his nightmarish imagery, gallows humor and sharp critique of modernity, thus creating the eight back-to-back performances. The pieces performed are diverse, intelligent and often darkly comic exploration of urban life, the dangers of bureaucracy and the power of fable and dream.

Each performance is unique in its own way, truly capturing the oddity, grim and dark humor of Kafka’s writings; it’s a neat way of bringing literature to life through modern interpretations.

Wes Needham and Ashlyn Hughes in Unhappiness in First Floor Theater's Kafkapalooza, written by Brett Neveu, and directed by Sarah Gitenstein.

Kafkapalooza features new plays by: Ike Holter, Brett Neveu, Kristiana Rae Colon, Marilyn Campbell-Lowe and Karen Kessler alongside Director Amanda Fink, Skye Robinson Hillis, Ariel Zetina and Artistic Director Hutch Pimentel. Also on the production team for Kafkapalooza includes: Bobby Huggins (scenic design), Sarah Collonge and Sarah Ingrahm (lighting design), Will Cotter (sound & projection design), Helen Behnke-Hanson (production manager) and Chelsea Wellman (stage manager).

Hayley Burgess in Fugitive Awareness in First Floor Theater's Kafkapalooza, written by Skye Robinson Hillis, and directed by Jesse Roth.

First Floor Theater stages stories of individuals facing moments of radical change. By combining emotional acting, immersive design, and collaborative dramaturgy, FFT expands these stories to ask urgent social questions. First Floor Theater was named the “Best New Theater Company” in the Chicago Reader’s Best of 2013 Reader’s Pick edition.

Amanda Powell and Pat Whalen in Red Right Hand in First Floor Theater's Kafkapalooza, written by Ike Holter, and directed by Josh Altman.

Tickets for Kafkapalooza start at just $15 and the show can be seen on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 8p.m. For more information or to order tickets, please visit First Floor Theater’s


Photos By Ariela Subar

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