Company: Artaud Company
Writer: Michael Almaz
Director: Michael Almaz
Cast: Sally Willis
Sally Willis’s performance as Kafka’s long suffering fiancée was acclaimed by audiences wherever she went on her solo tours through Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany and Austria, both in English and German.
‘Letters from K was a play about Felice Bauer, the fiancée of Franz Kafka. We see her returning from one of only two meetings she ever had with Kafka. Her demanding mother is in the next room. Felice longs for a normal relationship but finds this is impossible with the genius of literature. He sends her endless letters but cannot leave home and commit to be with her.
The pause between the two short plays in this double bill was no more than three minutes and in that time the actress had to leave the stage as Kafka’s devoted yet neglected fiancée, an anguished, uptight turn of the century young woman, red hair piled high, skirts skimming the floor, only to return to the spotlight as a Marilyn Munroe look-a-like with blonde hair, high white boots, low cleavage, fringes …shiny pink lipstick… tortured by ideas and thoughts and the projections of others – in her own voice – emanating from a tape recorder playing on the side of the stage in full view. The beauty of this play was the poetic dance between actress/main character and the relentless tape recording with text and pauses of different lengths.
This was always my favourite play of Michael’s because of the depth of his ideas about the search for meaning in life, the obstacles that lie in the way along the way for us all, the experience of a woman with no power in society – whom society abuses for its own pleasures – and I loved the person I played In Story, because of her extreme vulnerability and her paradoxical strength.’ Sally Willis
Extract from Kafka’s Diary:
‘Miss Felice Bauer was sitting at the table and, yet looked to me like a servant. I wasn’t at all curious about who she was, but rather took her for granted at once. Bony, empty face that wore its emptiness openly. Bare throat. Her blouse thrown on. Looked very domestic in her dress, although, as it later turned out, she by no means was. Almost broken nose, strong chin, blond somewhat straight, unattractive hair. As I was taking my seat, I took a good look at her for the first time and by the time I was seated I had already formed an unshakable opinion.’
Despite this unflattering description, Kafka fell in love with Felice and, in the course of the next few years wrote her hundreds of passionate letters. He saw her as the inspiration for some of his best short stories. Kafka lived most of his life with his parents at their apartment in the centre of Prague. An insomniac, he read and wrote till the small hours , much to his autocratic father’s annoyance.
Letters from K
Felice: One day, when I was at the office, she sneaked into my room and read his letters. ‘He writes a lot, but aimlessly. Moreover he beats about the bush. And another thing,’ Mother said, ‘He has very, very strange ideas about food.’
I screamed at her. I told her off for interfering in my affairs.
But she was right.
His attacks on our Berliner sausage were absolutely ludicrous.
Sausage. Sausage. Sausage.
Nonsense. It’s made of the best meat in the world, under medical supervision and in the most hygienic conditions.
I’ll never marry a vegetarian.
Some men treat women as angels. Others as beds. I was his writing desk. He wrote his stories on the skin of my face.
He created a world around me and the only real thing in that world was I.
Tape recorder: Excuse me…
Tape recorder: Excuse me….
Girl: Aw shut up. Where was I? Ah, yes, …that man is a machine propelled by threats. ‘In the infinite hour of our fears…’ Who said that? Where did I read it? ‘The infinite hour…’ There was that story in Woman’s Own. Or my evening classes on Dada, Surrealism and the Modernist Movement. But which was it? Could have been either. ‘The infinite hour’… what rubbish. Candid Camera my foot.. It’s not camera crews down there but ‘fears in the infinite hour’. It’s him again … and he’s being… Hey you! Woman! Stop! Stop it at once! Where’s your pride? Spit it out at once! Shit, this man can go on indefinitely. ‘The infinite hour’. And from one to another. hey, you disgusting whore! Stop! I won’t allow it! It must stop! Now… now!…NOW!
Tape recorder: Infinite
Girl: Must’ve been Woman’s Own…. unless it was Dali.
Tape recorder: Fears…Infinite fears…
Girl: ‘Infinite…’ ‘Understanding’.
Review from Münchner Merkur 1977
‘At once relishing and disgusted, giving in and fighting off, torn this way and that by memories, catchphrases, demands and meetings… with shadowy figures… projections of her own inner terrors… this huge body sways like a balloon in the wind and its counter currents but driven all the time by a clever and beautiful head. Sally Willis… an exceptional theatrical creature… Fascinating and terrifying in her powers of expression, perfect without a trace of falsehood.’
Letter from audience member 1/02/75
I’m very grateful to you for the performance of yesterday night at the Palais des Beaux Arts.
I felt I had to come and see you in these plays. I was right, because your acting was brilliant and so human. It did me good and relieved me a bit to hear on stage what I keep thinking between 4 walls. It was my first evening out since 8 months. I was right to choose you.
My best wishes for your further career.