By Christopher Heide
Franz Kafka is perhaps best known for his bizarre, yet thought provoking stories detailing the plight of human mortality and revocation of personal identity. His stories often investigate themes of displacement and unease, as explored in the New Century Theatre’s production of Kafka’s The Trial.
In The Trial, Kafka offers us the everyman of Joseph K. Joseph's 40th birthday (on April 1st, no less) begins with the gift of his being awoken by two strange men who inform him that he is "under arrest." From this beginning, Kafka spins a hysterical and disturbing tale of Joseph's next year, as our hero fights to understand and overcome the charges laid to him by a remote and inaccessible power. We watch in horrified hope as Joseph tumbles down the rabbit hole of innocence protested and guilt assumed. Peopled with vixens and lawyers, landladies and managers, Kafka and Joseph K's world is strange and, also, terribly, terribly familiar.
According to the director, Jon Langs, these strongly, surreal themes are of the utmost previlanmce in this loose adaptation, a staging that invites audience participation even before the production begins. He states:
“This play is not a play. You might think of it as a play if that makes you feel safe. It is a ritual designed for mind and spirit. This is a story about a man named Joseph K. Joseph is a biblical name. K is not. Joseph will be put on trial. So will you. In fact, your trial began when you were born.”
While edgy, innovative and visually interesting, this unusual experiment falls a bit short of its purported purpose. The overt sexuality, displaced misogyny and pedantic symbolism that have been oddly inserted into this adaptation all pull focus from the nuance of Kafka’s source material. However, the theater itself adds great historical context that does serve to highlight the destruction of personal identity in modern society. The play is staged in Seattle’s former INS building, in the very room where immigrants were sworn in to become US citizens.
Overall, the actors themselves are a true highlight of the show, with stars Darragh Kennan and Amy Thone displaying tremendous range, impressive comedic timing and a mastery of verbal alliteration. While this show does not have broad appeal, it is definitely worth seeing.
The Trial runs through April 28th at Inscape Performing Arts in Seattle.