A Look at Kafka's 'The Hunger Artist' on Stage

June 23, 2024

Celebrating writer and philosopher Franz Kafka's centenary year, the play 'The Hunger Artist' was brought to life onstage in Etcetera Theater this June. This play, an adaptation of Kafka's last written piece of the same title, is a solo show featuring Jonathan Sidgwick in a cage the entire show while brilliantly portraying the Artist with outstanding physical and emotional commitment.

The play explores themes of isolation, existentialism, and obsession. In the story, the Hunger Artist is a professional faster who sees his profession as an act of artistic expression. Later in his career, he gains popularity. However, he feels he's still misunderstood and underappreciated, even if he's willing to go beyond the allowable fasting length of 40 days set by his Impresario. Over time, public interest wanes, and he joins a circus as a minor attraction where underappreciation for him is magnified by circus-goers who simply walk past him to the circus animals and pay him no attention. His prolonged fasting leads to his physical decline and eventual death. 

Photo by Denise Wilton

Only The Hunger Artist is present for the entire duration of the show. His monologue becomes his avenue to introduce other characters that make no appearance in the show. He merely mentions the Impresario, Spectators, and Zookeepers as seemingly fictional characters, accessories, in a narrative he shares with the audience. The untapped potential of the play lies in this aspect, where a few additional characters would have given the production more life and depth through social dynamics and deeper relationships between them. However, this is not to say that Sidgwick's performance was lacking. His portrayal was perfect for the character; it was intense and captivating, and his vulnerability transcended the stage. From start to finish of his monologue, Sidgwick captured the audience's presence. 

The stage adaptation of Kafka's novel was well-received. It brings the story to life and captures Kafka's themes of isolation, existentialism, and obsession with a depth that resonates with the audience. The production tackles how art can become an obsession, exposing the grey area of how far an Artist can go to make art, prove himself worthy of people's attention, and how much attention he needs to feed his soul. The Artist's character is a perfect example of a selfish artist who measures success through the validation and attention of everyone around him. 

Photo by Lauren Russell

It is a powerful and memorable theater production, thanks to Sidgwick's exceptional performance of a beautifully written monologue. Though it lacked some parts, such as additional characters and the musical scoring, it remains a great ode to Kafka's "The Hunger Artist."

Find out more

Related Posts

Stay in the know

Get a digest of what's new and exciting from us

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form