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A CurtainUp DC Review
by Rich See
As prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, some of whom include Unite States citizens, begin a hunger strike as a plea for intervention on their behalf of being held by the US. government for almost 4 years without being charged with any crimes, one doesn't have to look far to see the world of Kafka's Joseph K. And with the parameters of the U.S. Patriot Act still sinking into the psyches of most people in this country, Joseph K.'s world is beginning to resemble our own.
In true absurdist form, Mr. Berkoff has highlighted the insanity of Kafka's world and of Joseph K.'s plight. While Joseph is not the most likeable person, he has seemingly done nothing wrong. Perhaps his greatest fault is his inability to work within the system he is caught in. A system that does not like people who want rapid progress, but instead are willing to play it's self-creating game of legal bureaucracy.
Kafka's story, written in 1905 and published after his death from tuberculosis in 1924, details the plight of a young man who is arrested on his thirtieth birthday. He is not informed what the crime is, what he is being charged with, or who is making the charges against him. When he hires a lawyer, the lawyer explains that the only way to defend himself is to make an educated guess about why he has been charged and then make a plea of guilty or not guilty based upon this guess. To do this he must listen, watch and learn to read between the lines of his interrogators' remarks. But as Huld the lawyer explains, there is no reason to be alarmed since the first plea is never actually read or examined by anyone. It is simply filed and then the case moves along its inexorable path. Thus he will be able to fine tune his deciphering and make a second or third plea as the case progresses and he learns more through its development.
Joseph K. is appalled by all this and continually asks how the law can allow this injustice to exist. Additionally, he questions where the country's constitution comes into play with all of this secrecy. To which, he is informed "You're laboring under a great illusion." The illusion being that the agency which has charged him is above the law and is not required to inform him of what he is being charged. The all-consuming legal battle that he now finds himself fighting is perfectly within the jurisdiction of the legal system.
As Joseph K. consults his lawyer and others who may help him defend himself, he gets closer and closer to fully grasping the maddening reality of what his life has become. Consulting the court painter, other defendants, a paralegal and various mistresses of influential men he is like a terminally ill patient looking to miracle workers and back alley doctors to help him find a cure.
Absurdist theatre is director Rober McNamara's terrain and he seems to be having a great deal of fun with the comedy within this stark tragedy. With no backdrops or scrims employed in the production, his cast uses every area of Warehouse Theatre's larger performance venue. In Kimberly Cruce's set we see bare brick walls and an overhead loft space, while on stage are positioned eleven chairs in which the cast sit, clap, type and do other assorted pantomime before jumping up and running around in frenetic activity.
Mr. McNamara has paced the play to have a manic energy which suddenly stops, takes a breather and then begins its kinetic ride once more. He even takes part in the production with the role of the court painter Titorelli. Perhaps the most effusive and comic character in the play, the painter is a foppish egotist whom Joseph K. -- as he seems to do with everyone who offers to help him -- accidentally insults.
David Crandall's sound design fits the mood swings of the piece, while Alisa Mandel's costumes are an interesting amalgam of black and white, with occasional red splashes thrown in. This is, for the most part, a crisp world of bowler hats, pressed skirts and suits. Joseph K. works in a bank -- he holds a high position as he continually reminds us -- and the world around him reflects this idea of order in the way it is outfitted. Which of course belies the lack of actual control that he currently exerts in his present circumstances.
Christopher Henley shines in the role of Joseph, bringing an uptight, tautness with a sense of harsh judgment to the character. You l may not want to spend much time with him, but you feel for the man and his dire situation.
Gravelly voiced Jim Zidar creates a powerful figure whenever he enters the stage whether it be as Huld, the lawyer, Joseph K.'s father or the Guardian of the Great Door of the Law. His Huld is especially impressive in the way he provides a peek into how a world weighted down by self-important, ego-filled individuals operates.
John Tweel seems to change from character to character right before our eyes in an interesting manner. He is alternately, the red jacketed Inspector who assures Joseph he has few rights but can still go to work on time, the distraught lover of the court laundress who is the sexual toy of many of the court's men, and the flogger of the police officers who try to steal Joseph's underwear after arresting him.
Danielle Davy's Mrs. Grubach the landlady is a picture of spinsterhood, although she seems to have eyes (as all the women do) for Joseph K. While Jai Khalsa's performance as Huld's mistress is a study in the art of the femme fatale. Michael Miyazaki creates a wonderfully sniveling coward as Huld's "Pathetic Client." Having employed numerous other lawyers to defend him, he has moved into Huld's house, quit his job and is devoting his entire life to his legal case, which has been going on for several years.
Filling out the cast are Maura Stadem's humorous, yet tragic, sex-crazed laundress. Svetlana Tikhonov's cool seductress Miss Bürstner a fellow tenant in Mrs. Grubach's lodging house on whom Joseph has a crush. And his arresting officers and ultimate persecutors, Christopher Moss and Terrence Heffernan who are a pair of Laurel and Hardy-like cops, their Keystone-esque antics hiding their more deadly natures.
Once again, Scena is asking us to see some thought provoking theatre and then look around at how relevant the story is to our own lives. They should be commended for their flag waving, warning us that if we, as a society, are not careful, then each of us can very easily wake up one morning to find we have become Joseph K.
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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