A dream play in which Katharine Hepburn
the Life Force meets Franz Kafka the Death Force and tries to change
his attitude. Set in a sanatorium amid biological warfare.
Based on the factual
writer who spent his life “earning my grave,” upon arriving there
wanted desperately to live, as his final diaries show. Who better
to force the point than Hepburn? (See
“Playwright’s Note” in excerpts.)
In a prologue, Franz Kafka, like his “hero” Joseph K. on the last page of The Trial, is about to be executed by the Guards when, suddenly, a figure appears in a nearby window. In The Trial that figures does nothing. In this play, that figure is Katharine Hepburn and she takes action---“Stop this execution!”---signaling the major dramatic question: Will Kate save Franz? To stop Kate, Guard I, in slow motion, begins the downward plunge of the knife, causing Franz to ask, “Am I in a dream?”---setting up the play’s dream realm.
Act One opens on
the terrace of the Sanatorium Ultime, where Kafka, who has come to die, is writing feverishly. Enter
Kate, there to recover from pneumonia and get on with life. After these
icons exchange insults, the emotional factors driving them to engage emerge:
Kate exudes the vitality Kafka needs to write his autobiography (“to discover
the component parts out of which I will construct myself”), while for Kate
the “moody” Kafka is key both to understanding the man she loves, Spencer
Tracy, and to play Shakespeare. Challenged, she announces a plan: to cure
his TB---and bad attitude---with a practical regime of rest, food, exercise. This
brings on the Guards, posing as orderlies: They want to finish Franz’ execution
and Kate is their obstacle. (Guard II, named Franz as in The
Trial, is smitten with Kate: “Love your work.”) Spooked,
and sensing Kate’s power (“At our innermost core, there is The Indestructible”),
Franz relents and follows her to the golf course. There he reveals the
fear “that is my essence.” Now allies, Kate prods him
not only to confront his fear of Father but declare independence from him
and embrace his great love Milena. By end of
Act One Kate prevails: Franz fitfully dictates to Kate the love letter
to Milena he wrote in real life: “Because of
I love you, I love the whole world. Come to me.”
Act Two opens with a reversal: Franz has
collapsed from his sexual fears. Kate, furious, forces
him out of bed, bringing on the Guards. Reverting to diva, she
shams collapse, demanding Franz give her “one brilliant reason to live.” Franz
does so (“Mount your attacker’s horse and ride it!”) and throws a punch
at Guard I, who slugs him, causing Franz to spew blood and accelerate his
descent to death. Appalled, Kate goes face-down with guilt. To restore
Kate to her life-loving self, and ensure his own peaceful death (think
of the guilt if he’s destroyed The Indestructible, which he sees is destructible), he rises from his sickbed and---who’d believe it?---Franz
Kafka becomes the protagonist. Trying to restore Kate, Franz finally acquits
himself: forgiving Milena (for her rejection)
and Father. But: Will Franz save Kate?
A note: The play’s context takes it beyond celebrity camp. Offstage a religious war
rages, manifested onstage by bandaged bodies. Citing his story In the Penal Colony, in which the Explorer fails to stop the torture,
Franz implores Kate, who earlier “looked out for the other fellow” and
held herself out as “counterforce,” to stop the carnage to come. Will
Providing tonic is the play’s wit; its
final reversal when Death embraces Life; and---crucial for our volatile
times---its final note, in the form of Franz’ real-life “holy fragment,”
of “making difficulties” for our inner beast, while treating other human
beings “with prayer.”
The portrait of Franz Kafka that I paint in this play is at
variance with his death-loving stereotype but represents the real Kafka, which
I discovered in studying his diaries, letters, and fiction.Kafka set escape hatches throughout, either
with a “perhaps” that undermined the bleakness of a passage; or in outright
refutation of an earlier position---the repudiation of his death wish when his
tuberculosis became terminal, made clear in his last diaries; his conciliatory
letters to his parents when he was dying, mitigating the tirade of his famous Letter
to His Father; or with images in his fiction that go unremarked.One such image---the figure who appears at
the end of The Trial, whom Joseph K. spots as he is about to be
executed---provides my premise.In his
last conscious act Joseph K. wonders of this figure, “Who was it?Was it a friend?Was help at hand?”In my play this figure is Katharine Hepburn,
who forces Kafka to return to that novel’s actual first draft, the one
Kafka feared to publish, in which Joseph K., rather than submit passively to
execution, raised his hand to state, “I have something to say.”This play imagines what he would say....
KATHARINE HEPBURN---mid-30s, in her Philadelphia
FRANZ KAFKA---40, the age he died
GUARDS I and II---from Kafka’s novel The Trial
The Sanatorium Ultime, located in the mountains of an unnamed country.
EXCERPT I: Scene 1, Act One
Setting:The terrace of
the Sanatorium Ultime.It is
sunrise.A BODY completely swathed in
bandages lies in one of several deckchairs.
At rise:FRANZ KAFKA sits
at a table upstage, in shadow, trying to write.MUSIC [from the Prologue, Noel Coward singing his song “Twentieth Century Blues”] continues.
[German] Schreien, Schreien----[English]Silence!No radio!This is a sanatorium!
MUSIC OUT.FRANZ tries again to write.
No use.(Moans and
puts hands over ears)It’s monkeys
Enter KATE with tray piled high.She wears the white terry-cloth robe [from “The Philadelphia Story”].
Hello, everyone----Oh: thrilling sunrise!Look, peeking over the mountains.Golly, paradise.
Groaning, FRANZ glares at KATE during:
I like breakfast e-normously---big
ones.Food is vital to getting
a second breakfast.When is it?(Sits; reads Order of the Day).Preceded by...:
“Wake-up, , wake-up stretch”:
Three sets I did.Then, “first
breakfast”---for which (shouts off): Bravo, kitchen, bravo!Next, “sport of choice.”Good: Exercise is likewise vital to getting
well; heals the lungs.I’ve a touch of
pneumonia, you see---one lung, nothing serious.Hate operating at half-power, but I’ll be full-power again with this splendidly
practical regime, whose next step following exercise is...: “rest cure.”Indeed: A good rest cures whatever ails
us.Then of course: There is
attitude.They don’t mention attitude
because that you bring yourself.Attitude---that is to say, volition---is the most vital thing to
blowing this place.I mean, the Sanatorium
Ultimeis the ultimate, though they are
a tad bureaucratic, and the extracurricular activities---concerts, lectures: (sighs)
banal; I’ll have to scare up something.But, no matter: I’m going to get well and leave soonest so I can----(catches herself) attend to something.Oh delicious muffins!What’re you in for, may
You’re very noisy, every word’s a punch in the eye, how can one person make so much noise?
Excuse me, I can’t see you.You’re sitting in the shadow.
I live in the shadow.
Oh dear: another moaner [moanuh].
Well, this is a sanatorium.Please: I am trying to write, and the rule
is: Eat in the dining hall.
Silly rule.Wouldn’t you like something?(To bandaged body)Would you, sir?
He doesn’t eat, you flouter of rules.Neither do I.
Boy, you certainly got up on the wrong side of the bed.
Apart from the war going on----!There is no right side to the bed because: I
do not sleep!
That’s exactly---what a friend of mine says.You two state it like principle.“Listen to the song of life”: That’s my
Listen to the song of life and you’ll hear shrieking.Life is squandered earning one’s grave.
Oh no.We must
progress, develop, improve ourselves.Volition.
My life has “progressed” only as decay progresses in a
Oh bore [boah].With that attitude, you’ll never get out of
I haven’t come to get out.I’ve come to die.
To get well!
Have it your way.
I’m afraid I will....
Another Gloomy Gus.You sound like that Franz Kafka: death,
FRANZ rises into the light, bows, and
Well!AsI live and
And you are Katharine [KATrin]
Hepburn, the American comedienne.
Actress.Mr. Kafka, scoot into the light----
(Ignoring)What brings Miss Spunk to a sanatorium: volition?
An excess of fun---a sensation alien to
you.I adore swimming in the
ocean---especially in a high wind.
Punishment---a sensation you know too well.But I do it to build character, which I
believe can be developed but which you as Mr. Victim don’t----Mr. Kafka, you need to come into the
And you need to come into the dark.
KATE and FRANZ
it you know my work?
I’ll tell Mr. Author---if he comes into the light.He’s giving me a crick in the neck.
(To self) Perhaps the Answer prowls around the
Clutching his manuscript, FRANZ scoots into the light,
but at a distance from KATE.
There you are.Not so
Just don’t ask me to smile.Ach, Hollywood has
infected the world with its smile----
Speaking of: Which of my pictures did you like best?
Story: from goddess to human being---delightful fantasy.And that piece of amusement you did with
Spencer Tracy, Woman of the Year----
Wasn’t Spencer [Spensuh]
Ja.I feel a certain affinity with him.
You?Huh, you two are totally unlike.Totally.
That scene where you two go to a baseball game and you
understand nothing.It was a pleasure to
see you confused.You are always so
definite.(To self)And so alive....
I’m confused right now.I don’t know if I should ask you to join me.You’re a complicated person, Mr. Kafka, and
complicated people give me melancholia.The worst problem I want is carrying two pails of milk over a fence.
As if you could choose your problems!
That’s exactly---what my friend says.In his moods.
Which doubtless is the thing you’ll
“attend to”: “Cheer up, cheer up!”Just what he needs----
While FRANZ surreptitiously checks his pulse:
He does----!Dammit: See here, Mr. Kafka!
FRANZ rises abruptly with his manuscript.
I am working on my autobiography.More precisely, they’d be autobiographical
investigations, to detect the component parts, out of which I’d
then---construct myself.I need to set
my soul in order---soon---since the end is near.This is the vital business.
Indeed.How far have
I’ve only just started....
Well, Mr. Kafka, there are two e-normous
contradictions, which in your trademark confusion you’ve failed to see: How can
a man write his autobiography if he has not constructed himself?And how can he possibly write a book, a
project which takes time, if he’s come here to die, which, as he’s not eating,
will happen in very short order?
Perhaps he could produce a fragment....?
Not without rest, food, and exercise.And volition.
You’re skilled at finding the internal contradictions.
A more practical mind would have spotted it instantly.You want to die but you want to live: quite a
large contradiction, that.E-e-e-normous.
Only slightly smaller than the motif you’ve been
developing---none too subtly.
I don’t follow.
“My friend”?You refer to Spencer Tracy.You’re mixed up with him.
marmalade on her eggs)
Talk of e-normous
contradictions: Spencer Tracy’s very complicated and you’re not.“Spensuh” and I are
a lot alike.You might learn from
me---starting with “Perhaps.”
you both might learn from me---starting with grit!
Oh God, you’re not---leaving?
(Beat)Not.On.Your.Life.(Sits)You are dangerous.
So are you.(Beat)Actually, I like the cinema---though it
impedes the imagination.
If it impedes yours, good.You’ve saddled the world with a distinctly
creepy brand of anxiety.
More guilt!I need to
reluctantly toward his table)
You may sit at my table---if you eat.
It’d just make for heavier shipment out.But perhaps I’ll reconsider....(Sits at KATE’S table)You spread marmalade on your eggs.Is that usual?
Old Yankee custom.Now: Why are you here?As you’re a walking case like me and not a
bed case like that poor fellow (indicates bandaged body), your physical
ailment can’t be too serious, unlike your considerable mental ailment.
I have tuberculosis.
Oh; I’m so sorry.Here: Drink milk (pours).Milk’s the thing for T.B., heals the lungs.You’ve hemorrhaged, coughed blood?(Pushes glass toward FRANZ)
(Ignoring milk)Yes!Once.Back in Prague.It was extraordinary.Usually I have insomnia, very bad.But after the hemorrhage---which lasted ten
full minutes---I went to sleep!
Cheered by your impending death, I’m sure.Mr. Kafka: You have a 50-50 chance of getting
well.Your T.B.’s only first-stage; drink.You know, with first-stage, you could be at
home with your family.
I---am not at home---with my family.Miss Hepburn: Are you licensed to practice
I’m a doctor’s daughter.I know lots in the physical department.
Though not much in others.Certainly not in subtext.
You mean the basement.Ugh!
dwells.You know, Katharine of
Arrogance, if you wanted to, you could be as sick as the rest of the human
Oh boy, is this place big enough for the both of us?Mr. Kafka: Do you live to live or do you live
We’re forever stumbling through unfinished suicides, give it
Your attitude offends me in the extreme.Leave this table!
Forgive me but: You love a suicidal man.I imagine Spencer drinks---and it isn’t milk!
What a nerve!I withdraw my offer (retrieves the milk).
And I withdraw myself---like a fist!---of
my own volition.
FRANZ returns to his table with his manuscript.HE tries to write, but can’t.Beat....
Why would the famous intellectual writer read the lying Hollywood
(To self)Saviors can’t help themselves....(To KATE) Simply: I can imagine.Also I study the movie posters, look at the actors’ faces, imagine their lives.The poster of Woman of the Year: You and Spencer gazing at each
other: very powerful.It reminds me of
FRANZ checks his pulse, which KATE sees.
You check your pulse.
It’s just habit.
It’s life, Mr. Kafka!LIFE!Which you
need for your autobiography---and this “someone.”
You remind me of her....(Rising)Perhaps I will
have a little coffee.
KATE pours a few drops of coffee into his glass of milk.She rises to hand it
A “little” coffee---with masses of healing
milk.You smile....(Sits)Now: this “someone....”
She’s so far above this hellhound....(sits).Please, before you attack again: How do
you know my work?
I read, Mr. Kafka.Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen: all the fighters of former
centuries---unlike the puny types of today.It was in college---Bryn Mawr---where I was
forced to read you.My life was so
thrilling I couldn’t concentrate, and in my progress my grades weren’t doing
well---they were nonexistent actually---so if I was to continue in theatricals ---by
then, you see, I’d decided to become an actress---I had to improve my academic
performance.So, for my thesis---the
theme was “a major influence on the Modern Era”---since the list had been
picked over---nobody wanted you---and since I’d yet to make my
mark and couldn’t pick myself---I’d a wild desire to be a star, to
fascinate---I was forced to pick you, Franz Kafka, the man with a wild desire
to be absolutely revolting.I read your
comparatively small and exceedingly dreary body of work----
Which I wanted burned, if my friend Max had followed my
You don’t know the business end of a match?Mr. Kafka: Why can’t you write books that
rouse us up?
Books should be axes for the frozen sea within us, books
Samuel Johnson said books should enable us to enjoy
life or endure it better.
A pacifier!(Beat)Wait a minute, how would you know
about Samuel Johnson?
God, your story about the fellow who wakes up as a bug---ugh!
Yes: exceedingly repulsive.
You agree?Is this
your famous ambiguity, or is it irony?I
get the two confused.Never mind.And that fellow who’s a circus act with his
fasting: sounds autobiographical to me.
I would have eaten, if I’d found the food I liked.
Hang on: If you work is autobiographical, why write an
My books are botched, unfinished, loathsome----
Especially In the Penal Colony: that torture machine!
There I disagree emphatically!
---and The Trial: Joseph K. drives me absolutely mad.
Not your mad, my mad.(Beat)Strange: Recently I
had one of my rare nightmares and it was about him.Joseph K. so infuriates me, submitting to
execution, that I woke up shouting, “Make difficulties, make
Then, that was you....
I don’t follow.
In the innermost heart of every individual, there is The
Unseen by Franz or Kate, THE GUARDS, still in top hat and
tails, lean into the scene, GUARD I glaring at Franz, GUARD II swooning at
Why, that’s lovely---lovely.But: we don’t see “The Indestructible” in
your work, do we.Wouldn’t it be wonderful, not to mention miraculous, if we did.
Alarmed, GUARD I grabs GUARD II and exits.
So much penance on my account, and all for
college theatricals.What was the
Nobody remembers, least of all you, that what remained in Pandora’s box was Hope.
HOPE?!In these singularly dreadful times?The tribal wars I foresaw rage now in every
corner of the globe.People drag their
sacred trinkets from overheated attics, shoot their neighbors.It all starts with flags and salutes and
newsprint---and ends with pillage and blood, brought to high boil by Religion,
which gets as lost as people do!All
this carnage (indicates bandaged body)---it stems
from a monstrous lack of imagination: man so beset by his demons that
he can’t imagine the suffering of others. Ah, but he can imagine ever
more efficient torture machines.The most recent?Lungs vaporized by chemicals!
SOUND of train whistle.
Ach, another trainload.Carnage without end!
I agree the outlook is not sunny.But what, Mr. Kafka, is your solution?
As a writer I can only represent the negativity of my age,
not fight it.Counterforces
do exist, but they are disorganized and pitifully weak.
Not weak, dammit.NOT weak!
The GUARDS, dressed as orderlies, enter.GUARD I, with KNIFE drawn, goes for FRANZ.
Let’s finish off those lungs of yours, Frantisek [Fron-tichek].
(Jumps up)What the devil?!
Close, Miss Hepburn.(Seizes FRANZ by one arm)Very close.
I could be close to you, Miss Hepburn.Love your work.
Ugh.(To GUARDS)Hmmm: I’m on to you two.Mr. Kafka: There is a solution.
Your prescription, “Doctor” Hepburn?
To look out for the other fellow----
Yeah, look out for him, he’s “a swamp”---like Frantisek
...to look out for the other fellow and
dismantle the torture machine.One firm No does it.
FRANZ and the GUARDS guffaw.
You’re the fictionist, Miss Hepburn, not I.The torture machine runs of itself----
---on fear.We’re not your usual antagonist you can win
over at the sentimental happy ending.
But....It’s so nice to have the man and the woman
together at the end....
(Whispers to KATE)We could be together, “Kate”----
That does it!Mr.
Kafka: I am going to save you.I’m going to get you well and stop your nightmares and spare the world
another of your dreary books.I adore a
challenge and you three are the biggest I know of---here, that is.Come, it’s off to the golfcourse.
But I’m to lecture in 30 minutes, I
am one of the “activities.”Und meinEnglischistnicht gut.
Cancel the lecture.And our battle’s basic, your English is good enough.Who knows, Mr. Kafka: Maybe you’ll enjoy
yourself---and write a happy autobiography.
Happy?That would negate all my books, all my
books have been in the service of the Devil!
(Motioning GUARD II to take FRANZ’ other arm)He hates revising, Miss Hepburn.
Then your books do serve as your autobiography---and
your soul is totally, totally at peace.
GUARDS tighten their hold.
Come on, Mr. Kafka: Contradict yourself.(Shakes head)Oh boy, this is getting fancy.
Isn’t it always....?Mr. Kafka, we’re waiting....
be possible---for a man who has conquered his fear, his chaos (looking at
GUARDS)---to begin to write.(To KATE) Those would be holy books.
“Holy books”: Beautiful!I knew you had it in you, Mr. Kafka.I knew it!
“To invent words pungent as corpses”: That’s in him too.
GUARDS)A train needs unloading....
We’ll get our man yet.(Exits with GUARD II)
So will I---(to self) I
Such power you have.
KATE places FRANZ’ finger on her pulse.
Your pulse: It’s racing---like mine.
Acting.Here: Drink your milk.I’ll have some too.You wear my brains out (drinks).
Me getting better: a contradictory, yet (drinks)
wonderful idea.But, Miss Hepburn: It’s
a labyrinth out there.
We’ll just follow the signs, Mr. Kafka.We’ll just follow the signs.
[END OF SCENE]
EXCERPT II: Scene 4, Act Two
[Preceding action: Act One ends with
Kate pushing Franz in her get-well regime to write his great love Milena, “Come to me.”Act Two opens with Franz collapsed from sexual fears and Kate forcing
him out of bed, causing him to hemorrhage massively.In Sc. 2, the dying Franz recognizes he wants
to live, the guilt-ridden Kate declares she wants to die---a reverse of their original
positions.To ensure his own peaceful
death, Franz must acquit himself as he never has (and becomes the
protagonist).In Sc. 3 he forgives Milena for rejecting him.In this scene he forgives his parents, his former “persecutors.”His overall objective, which he pursues to
play’s end, is to restore Kate to her life-loving self.]
Setting: Franz’ room.FRANZ, dressed in a sanatorium nightgown, weak,
lies in bed.
At rise: KATE enters.
Franz, your parents are in the lobby.They want to see you.Seems the Authorities notified them of the---change
in your condition.I’ll bring them up?
And your mother.She seems sweet.She has some preserves for you.I’ll get your robe.
Who will be my advocate [vis-à-vis Father]?As you’re useless, it seems I must be my own
(With robe)Here you go....
Oh Katrin, what’s there to light
up a father’s eyes?A son who’s
unloving; incapable of marriage; pensioned at 39 because of a disease that was
his own fault; obsessed with his weird writing----
Not “weird”; you were wounded.I’ll brush your hair too.
I made too much of the wound!Wounds can be cauterized [as KATE
earlier argued].Ach, this is a
son to rave about!
Your father is a large man.From a child’s point of view, he must’ve been
terrifying.Yet right now he
seems---very small.Hmm, paradox: Now I get
The huge man: small....?(To self)The longer one
hesitates outside the door, the more estranged one becomes....Katrin: I am
canceling the trial between Father and me.
After all, he was in his turn as I am in mine: errant
brother, scapegrace son.This negative
heroism---defying parents---it’s over so little, yet it cuts us off from
so much.Not long ago Mother kissed me
good-night, and I said, “That’s nice,” and she said, “You liked it?I liked it too.”All those kissless
Well, let’s get started.
But Katrin: I’m----I’m not going to see them.
asking for their Frantisek.
I can’t foist this---corpse on them.(Laughs)The first thing parents notice is your
physical state.You could win the Nobel
Prize and they’d say, “Looks a little pale, doesn’t he?”
But they should have the joy of this reconciliation.
It’s already taken place, no need to re-enact it.But: I will put it in writing.Would you?
Ohh, very well (moves to desk).
Besides, it’s my style.They’ll---they’ll understand....“Dear Parents, about this visit: It would be so nice.We haven’t been together for such a long
time.But, I’m not a pretty sight.I am making my way with the aid of a
new friend.She’s been of e-normous help---though don’t imagine me giving parties
yet.However, as I cannot show important
visitors such as you undeniable progress, I think, dearest parents, we should
just let it be.Signed:
Your loving son, Franz.”
Beautiful.This makes me even sadder.
Just as I thought: In my capacity for understanding, I go
from child to white-haired ancient.
I’ll go down now.Your parents do have a son to rave about.
Thank you.Then come
right back.You and I have something to
What is that?
We’re going on a picnic.I do want to give a party---for you---at the Castle.The view will be good for the perspective....
One lives one’s life, but enjoys only one hour.I want my hour before I die.Time’s a-wasting....
But, what if you hemorrhage again?My guilt.....!
Go.Take the letter
to my parents, then hire a car and come back for me.
I’m doing this against my will.
And I’m exercising mine---for the first time.Katrin: Kiss
Mother---and (beat) kiss Papa for me....
I will. Your parents have a son who’s
stark raving mad.(Exits)
Finally....: I am born.
[END OF SCENE]
material in the above scene relating to his parents is fact, as are the
recognitions, “In my capacity for understanding, I go from child to
white-haired ancient” and “One lives one’s life, but enjoys only one hour.”]