Reviewed by Jason Williams
Sinking Ship’s production of A Hunger Artist is a dark comedy that balances self-deprecation with self-awareness. Adapted from a short story of the same name from Czech writer Franz Kafka, the play gives actor Jonathan Levin a rich palette of emotions and justifications to paint a portrait that at times is tough to look at, but demands your attention.
The Hunger Artist in question is a carnival performer who starves himself for forty-day intervals. The theme of illusion is a major part of this work, aided by an incredible design team. Kate McGee, who was responsible for the Lighting Design along with Lighting Supervisor M. Florian Stabb and Lighting Associate Elizabeth Stewart, should all be commended for their exquisite use of shadows and silhouettes, which makes the black box stage feel like its own universe.
The play open with a solid three minutes of wordless communication as the narrator physically sets up the stage only to break the fourth wall with his first utterance. This sets the tone for the first half of the play, which is conversational, to say the least, as members of the audience are picked to join Levin on stage to fill several of the roles in the original story. There is a moment where, with so many non-trained actors on stage, the play seems to be clumsily moving along at best. Then you realize that these slapstick antics are serving a dual purpose: the humor districts us from the undeniable fact that the hunger artist’s deprivation is used for our entertainment. Secondly, humor is being used to disarm us. The audience is being set up for an intense deeper look beyond the surface level of this curious situation.
Solo performances can hit a little too hard on look-at-me acting, but Levin’s performance dares you to look away. As the story rushes to its unfortunate, but inevitable, climax, you’re left stunned at what this production accomplishes. Through lighting, sound, and movement, the play delivers an ending as devastating on the stage as it was on the page.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.