Avante garde theater company stumbles with Kafka adaptation
Who: Theatre ‘d Art
Cast: Aaron Dewsnap, Erick Groskopf, Joseph Forbeck, Danine Schell, Mark Cannon, Erica Erickson
Playwright: Adapted by Brian Mann from Franz Kafka’s novel
Director: Brian Mann
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes with no intermission
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays through Jan. 27
Where: Theatre ‘d Art, 128 N. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $10, $5 students with ID, $5 admission with any current legal documentation (jury summons, subpoena, traffic ticket, etc.) or proof of employment for any legal worker; 357-8321 or theatredart.org
You can kind of intuit what you’re going to get in a theater season dubbed “The Road to Upheaval:” Inky-dark comedies and apocalyptic dramas and with more than a hint of irony, authority issues and general hopelessness. Probably zombies, too.
That’s Theatre ‘d Art, of course. The avante garde troupe founded in 2003cqt by former University of Colorado at Colorado Springs theater acolytes and itoften gravitates toward that kind of steampunk aesthetic. The risks it consistently takes — whether with material, setting or tone — typically succeed or fail in spectacular fashion.
The “Upheaval” season continues with “The Trial,” adapted by TdA artistic director Brian Mann from Franz Kafka’s emblematic novel. It’s rich material, certainly. But Rebecca Warren’s intriguing set by and stylish costumes by Sharon Burnett isn’t able to offset the production’s problems: a wooden key performance, monotone pacing and redundant storytelling. In the end, the experience thatwas far too much like the title of the show.
Unfinished when Kafka died in 1924,cqt “The Trial” tells an archetypal story of helplessness in the face of mindless rule: Bank exec Joseph K (Aaron Dewsnap)cqt wakes up on his 30th birthday to find himself charged with a crime. What kind of crime, what law was exactly broken and who is charging him is fodder for K’s battle against The Man.
This dynamic dovetail’s nicely with the company’s primary fascinations, especially with immersive theater. Its 2012 production of “Reservoir Dogs” virtually erased the line between the performance and the audience — quite successfully.
Here, your evening begins with judgment. Men and women in suits observe you (critically, disdainfully) as you trundle down the constructed hallway to the theater space. They watch you from corners of the stage. They talk to each other in stoic whispers.
And were the large drops of blood near the women’s bathroom sink another ominous little gesture to enhance our unease? Either way, it worked.
Unfortunately, that wholistic experience doesn’t last for long.
Granted, Dewsnap, who makes his company debut here, is on stage every second of the hour-and-45-minute run time. But in all that time, he fails to embrace the humanity of K — perhaps the only character on that stage that absolutely requires some. Instead, he competently delivers his lines, hits his marks and makes a go at emotions that we can read but not feel. The upshot? Ambivalence about whether K finds justice or is crushed under the wheels of an invisible law.
The rest of the cast plays multiple characters, intentionally drawn in two dimensions. Mark Cannon’scqt Block,cqt who has fought a mysterious charge for five years, was solidly sad and beaten down. Joseph Forbeck managed ashis authority figures quite convincingly. And Erick Groskoph’scqt attorney Huldcqt was well drawn, even tiptoeing into three dimensions.
Mann’s adaptation works well enough. As a director, he creates tension and maintains it throughout. And perhaps, with more variation, the script wouldn’t seem as repetitious: Each scene, though thematically similar, would build to an ending you’d care about. The lack of a perceivable narrative arc, though, left me checking my watch for a clue as to where we were in the action.
I was fascinated by Warren’s minimalist set design, which depends on flats and freestanding doors on wheels. It’s a pragmatic solution to the demands of this epic story, but as they’re manipulated during the action — to create a sense of a labyrinthine building, say — it was effective and hauntingly balletic.