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February 13, 1970 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1970-02-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Kafka's 'Castle at Meadow Brook; Sperber Notes Brod Friendship

MILO SPERBER

Max .Brod
1884 - 1968

By GITTA PAZI
(Jerusalem, Israel)
Meadow Brook Theater keeps
pioneering—and the Thursday night
premier performance of Franz
Kafka's "The Castle" marked an-
other notable event for the John
Fernald Company at Oakland Uni-
versity.
"The Castle" now is being pre.
sented for the first time in this
country in English. Milo Sperber,
who returned to Oakland Univer-
sity's theater to direct this play,
had previously directed it to intro-
duce the famous Kafka imaginative
to British audiences.
For a brief eight performances,
"The Castle" was staged in New
York two years ago in German by
a visiting cast. The English pro-
duction is an innovation. It had
been adapted for the stage by
Kafka's closest friend Max Brod,
and of added interest in the cur-
rent theatrical innovation at Mea-
dow Brook is that Sperber be-
friended Brod, before the latter's
death 14 months ago in Israel.
Sperber had directed Habima
National Theater in Israel in
Strindberg's "Dance of Death."
During his Israel stay he fre-
quently consulted Max Brod.
A world of muffled threats, in-
sane bureaucracy and hints of dis-
aster are exposed in "The Castle."
Sperber explained: "Because Kaf-
ka's writing appeals more to the
imagination than to memory, this
adaptation of his famous novel (by
Brod) moves easily to the stage."
Sperber sees in "The Castle" the
symbolism of the Jewish battle
against exclusion, the struggle of
the outside—aLso the black man—
against oppressive developments.
The story of the play concerns
a stranger who comes to a vil-
lage ruled by a castle which he
needs to reach and cannot. He
is neither a member of the un-
seen administration above, elu-
sive, all-powerful, nor of the ,
closely-knit community below.
Unwanted, isolated, he battles
fiercely for the rights he cannot
secure. In true Kafkaesque at-
mosphere, "The Castle" is a
play fought out in a dark corner
of the mind between sleep and
waking. The leading role of the
stranger is played by Richard
Curnock.
Sperber, a native of Austria
where he studied law and received
his training as an actor, as well as
a director with the Reinhardt Sem-
inar, had the distinction of study-
ing under the greatest of this gen-
eration's directors, Max Reinhardt.
The Reinhardt influence formulat-
ed Sperber's life's work as actor,
director and teacher of drama. He
was in the casts of Reinhardt's pro-
ductions of "Six Characters in
Search of an Author" and "A Mid-
summer Night's Dream."
During Hitler's first year of
domination over Austria, Sper-
ber lived in Vienna under the
spell of the Nazi horror. He
managed to flee as a refugee to
England in 1939. His experiences
as a Jew have especially fitted

him well for the role of director
of the Brod-adapted "The
Castle."
Soon after Sperber's arrival in
London he began working for the
BBC and later in the theater and
in films. He joined the faculty of
the Academy of Dramatic Art after
John Fernald became its principal
and taught and directed there for
10 years. He performed in West
End plays and in films, wrote
scripts for the BBC and directed
plays in the professional theater.
In the last two years he appear-
ed in the film "Billion Dollar
Brain" (with Michael Caine) and
in the play "In the Matter of J.
Robert Oppenheimer" in London.
He directed two plays by Marguer-
ite Daras and a new play at the
Edinburgh Festival.
In 1969 his time was fully occu-
pied in writing a serial of 30 epi-
sodes for BBC-TV in which he
plays one of the main characters.
Sperber "wrote himself out" of
the serial temporarily to direct
"The Castle" at Meadow Brook,
but he is returning to the BBC
task next week.
Max Brod, outstanding writer
and Zionist thinker, who died in
December 1968, influenced Jewish
intellectual circles, particularly in
Central Europe.
Brod had lived in Tel Aviv since
1939. His literary output during
six decades of creative activity en-
compasses more than 80 novels,
plays, biographies, works on philo-
sophy of religion and culture,
translations from the Czech,
French and Latin textbooks for
operas and compositions, and hun-
dreds of articles, many among
them of decisive importance for
the awakening of Jewish conscious-
ness in some of Brod's contempor-
aries in Central and Western
Europe. To find a universal, en-
cyclopedic spirit like his, one has
to go back to the 18th and 19th
Centuries.
Max Brod made his debut in
the literary world in 1906, but
his turn to the Jewish world
was brought about by three ex-
periences: The famous "Three
Speeches on Judaism" delivered
by Nartin Buber in Prague in
1909; the performances of a
group of Jewish actors from
Eastern Europe whom he had
discovered in a small cafe in
Prague and introduced to his
friend Franz Kafka, and Hugo
Bergmann's "Observations on
Zionism", started Brod reading
Herz! and Ahad HaAm and
struggling for his way to truth.
The books "Jewesses" and "Arn-
old Beer" are the first reflex of
his Jewish consciousness. In "Ty-
cho de Brahe's Way to God," the
Danish astronomer became a sym-
bol of the Jew, the personification
of the Jewish seeker and stranger,
the homeless and the rootless
Jew. It is in this famous book that
for the first time the Jewish re-
ligion occupies a central place,

namely the teachings of the
Maharal, addressed not only to
his own people but to the whole
world.
The first articles in which Max
Brod began fighting for a spiritual
home for the Jewish intellectual
date from World War I. They ap-
peared in Buber's famous review
"Der Jude". Here he stressed the
necessity of "belonging"; of hav-
ing spiritual roots.
In his essay "Jewish Folk
Melodies", Brod pointed out the
Jewish note in the work of Jewish
composers, often unconscious or
subconscious but never entirely
absent. Mahler, Mendelssohn and
Offenbach who had always remain-
ed a strange element in their sur-
roundings can be fully understood
and duly appreciated only if their
specific Jewish components are
recognized.
Brod was mentor, guide and
helper of the famous "Prague Cir-
cle"—a galaxy of Jewish thinkers
and writers. His indefatigable ac-
tivities as friend and promoter not
only of Kafka, Janacek and Hasek
have often been described in de-
tail; less known and emphasized
is Brod's influence on his contem-
poraries, on their approach to
Zionism and Jewish culture.
He always pointed out that
the sense of belonging to the
Jewish people should be the
primary and original emotion of
a Jew. Many sons of the Jewish
people in Western and Central
Europe who had become all but
completely estranged, were
drawn back in the Jewish orbit
by the discussions held on this
and similar topics raised by
Brod.
Max Brod was not only a poet
and thinker; he was also a man
of action. It was he who organized
relief work for the Jewish refugees
who had come to Prague from Po-
land in World War I; he edited
"Selbstwehr", the central Zionist
organ in Czechosloyakia, at a time
when it was lacking both contri-
butors and means, and he stood in
the forefront of the political

struggle of Zionism. The cable of
T. G. Masaryk promising full
rights to the Jewish minority was
addressed to Max Brod. As vice-
president of the Jewish National
Council in Czechoslovakia, Max
Brod's main interests were Jewish
civil rights and Jewish education.
His great historic novel "Reu-
beni, Prince of the Jews", which
in 1933 was awarded the Czecho-
slovak state prize for literature in
the German language, acquainted
countless Jewish and non-Jewish
readers with the glories and suf-
ferings of the Jewish past.
Max Brod was no rootless cos-
mopolitan; his spirit was univer-
sal but nurtured by his Jewish
consciousness. His deep and fer-
vent love for the land of his
fathers was most eloquently ex-
pressed in his novel "The Master".
In an anthology "My Favorite
Psalm", recently published in
Europe, Brod chose the 126th:
"When the Lord turned again the
captivity of Zion." What his hero
Reubeni has been denied, Brod
was privileged to see: the realiza-
tion of the dream of homecoming,
the sign of God.
It was Brod's conviction that to
be one of the Chosen People im-
posed duties rather than conferred
rights, and first and foremost re-
sponsibilities towards one's neigh-
bor. In his personal life Brod was
an example to others; for the

non-Jews he became the symbol
of the Jewish idea of love, of love
in action and of understanding
among peoples.

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Friday, February 13, 1970-5

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