It’s great to say an actor is self-possessed, but a little extra so when describing Daniel Flint’s mind-warping, shape-shifting performance in his one-man adaptation of “The Golem,” Austrian author Gustav Meyrink’s deeply creepy 1914 novel about the inner — and outer — demons walking among the residents of Prague’s Jewish Quarter at the end of the nineteenth century.
For 70 bracingly bizarre minutes, Flint careens at a quick clip through this chiller, adopting numerous voices and physicalities along the way. It’s frenetic, but in a good way, feeding energy into the story at hand. Thanks to Flint’s substantial talent and effort, it doesn’t take long for us to be swept up into this tale of a paranoid, isolated man, cursed with too much insight into his own deteriorating mental state.
Perhaps I’m not being fair since, as the saying goes, it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you. And Athanasius Pernath, Meyrink’s oddball protagonist, certainly finds his nightmares coming true. A Prague jeweler by trade, Pernath is pulled suddenly into the local legend of the Golem via a mysterious book — then a secret trapdoor, then an abandoned cloak — full of powerful, transformative energy.
The strange manner in which Pernath tends to, and eventually embodies, the discoveries he’s making draws as much from the fractured psyche of his ghetto community as it does from his personal woes. In Meyrink’s telling, the fabled creature is not merely clay; it’s a manifestation of that dispiriting deadweight we develop — and assume from our ancestors — without fully knowing it. What troubling inner mass does a culture carry over time, and how might it come out in the dark of the night?
If you suspect that Pernath’s permutations would have made a great episode of “The Twilight Zone,” you’re on to something. The macabre storyline, brimming with mystery, also brings to mind the work of Edgar Allan Poe more than half a century earlier, particularly in the narrator’s nervous rhythms of dread and self-doubt.
All colors of the occult, in fact, swirl together in The Golem like an iridescent oil spill, each new tone teasing us with how incompletely it explains away our hero’s predicament. He’s not crazy to track voices through the walls, witness dark forms in the doorway, and chase after the shapes of his failing memories. But Flint’s fast and frantic narration makes it clear that Pernath’s mind is a perfect, painful echo chamber for the fears he observes as they slowly creep up and consume him.
Closes May 18, 2013
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
545 7th Street, SE
1 hour, 10 minutes with no intermission
Wednesdays thru Saturdays
Detail and tickets
Local electronica musician Jupiter Rex is along for the ride as well, a fitting addition given Taffety Punk’s interest in fusing music more thoroughly with stage craft. We see him above the playing area, dipping and dialing his DJ board as he creates an evolving soundscape underneath the dramatic action. And although some of the moments in which the show brings the music center-stage feel a touch disruptive — the lyrics Jupiter Rex sings live, in particular, come off as obtuse, pulling our attention out of the main story — his low pulsating tones and hovering presence add a certain helpful streak of doom and gloom to the evening.
As Pernath’s life disintegrates — and the gaps in his memory tear more and more widely open — we feel the underlying spirit of The Golem unearth itself. To describe what happens in too much detail would be as rude as running through a haunted house and turning on all the lights. The big questions about what’s happening — and who Pernath has become — are what drive us forward. It’s a Freudian stew. It’s a Gothic nightmare. It’s a modern urban cautionary tale. It’s a Halloween fun ride. It’s all of the above. To learn more, you’ll have to walk down the dark alley yourself.
The Golem from the novel by Gustav Meyrink . adapted and performed by Daniel Flint . directed by Joel David Santner . produced by Taffety Punk . reviewed by Hunter Styles.