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‘The Hunger Artist’ Organizes the Chaos

February 28, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ Theatergoers who fear the avant-garde will be beyond them, or that a play about writer Franz Kafka will be over their heads or too gloomy, can attend ″The Hunger Artist″ with anticipation and serenity.

The play, which opened Thursday at the off-Broadway St. Clement’s, was conceived and directed by Martha Clarke. It’s both avant-garde and about Kafka. It is also neatly organized, in its freeform setting. It’s easy to follow, whether or not one knows much about Kafka, and it’s interesting.

The first scene is fashioned around Kafka’s short story ″The Country Doctor.″ As in many of Kafka’s stories, the doctor moves as if in a kind of dream or nightmare, contending with situations he can’t grasp.

The show slips seamlessly into ″The Metamorphosis,″ in which a woman discusses, with a mixture of sympathy and disgust, the fact that her brother has become a cockroach. The man who has undergone this transformation complains that his family no longer understands him, and believes he would have been kinder if it had happened to a different family member.

The story ″A Hunger Artist″ is treated with a circus atmosphere, the artist in a cage. He doesn’t eat, and is too weak to explain his philosophy.

Adult performers are Bob Besserer, Brenda Currin, Anthony Holland and Paola Styron. Music is be Richard Peaslee. The adapter is playwright Richard Greenberg. Robert Israel designed costumes and set.

Music-Theater Group, in Stockbridge, Mass., and the Kennedy Center in Washington produced.

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