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Amerika

by Rich See

Despite my fine clothes, I am poor...with no perspective.
---Karl Rossmann to the Street-Painter

Scena Theatre celebrates Independence Day from a European perspective with its most recent production of Franz Kafka's comedy Amerika. Done in conjunction with Vienna's Pygmalion Theater, the play's U.S. premiere moves at a fast pace and is filled with chaotic mayhem performed at break-neck speed by the two member cast.

Amerika was Kafka's first novel and details the rude awakening of seventeen year old Karl Rossmann as he departs Europe under a scandalous cloud after being seduced by an older woman. Put on an ocean liner with very little to help him create his new life, Karl meets a street-painter who takes the boy under his wing. The Street-Painter then begins "educating" Karl on all the myriad experiences that are in store for him in his new country. Alas, the Street-Painter's views are being filtered through his own perspective and what begins as a fun-filled passing of time, absorbs the two men into a showdown of humiliation and ultimate failure. Considered to be Kafka's funniest novel, Amerika still gives a thoughtful, and at times touching view, of the land of opportunity, while maintaining Kafka's main themes of isolation and disconnection.

Director Tino Geirun, Artistic Director of Pygmalion Theater, has taken a minimalist tack with the setting and staging. Backdropped by a large, modernist American flag, the floor of the theater is draped in rolls of paper, the only set pieces being the props the actors carry. At varying points Mr. Wischin draws on the floor of the stage to create a set piece, prop, or to make a point. It's an interesting staging device, which would work wonderfully on a raked stage. Borrowing heavily from slapstick comedy, Mr. Geirun has perfected his casts' timing. The dialog flows seamlessly as the humor emerges at full steam, which makes the violent and abusive scenes that much more jarring.

This production is adapted by Ip Wischin, who also appears as the Street-Painter. The adaptation takes advantage of Mr. Wischin's talents in singing and art, as was well as his impressive acting ability. Alternately making vocal sound effects, singing the national anthem, or drawing elaborate caricatures, he is seemingly in constant motion the entire time on stage. When his humor turns to rage, it's quite astonishing. His co-star, Ann-Birgit Holler, who plays Karl Rossmann, is equally adept at comedy and drama. Her portrayal of the young boy being sent away is both believable and touching. When she screams "Enough!" you feel the pain of a young man becoming overwhelmed by his uncertain future, made even bleaker by a cruel adult.

While Franz Kafka is not for everyone, Amerika introduces some very talented new artists to the Washington area and is a little gem of intellectual summer theatre.

Amerika
by Franz Kafka
adapted by Ip Wischin
Directed by Tino Geirun
with Ann-Birgit Holler and Ip Wischin
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Scena Theatre and Pygmalion Theater
Warehouse Theater Second Stage, 1021 Seventh Street, NW
Telephone: 703-684-7990
WED - SAT @7:30, SUN @3; $25
Opening 06/15/04, closing 07/15/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 07/02/04 performance
Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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