The Trial of K
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
March 30, 2005
Someone might be watching.
Someone always is.
This simple exchange is the spine of The Trial of K., Synaesthetic Theatre’s complex and provocative adaptation of Franz Kafka’s 1914 novel The Trial.
When I walked into the space one of the first things I noticed were the three cameras set up all around the playing area. At first I thought they were going to be filming the performance but as it turns out, the cameras are there for surveillance. The images of the live performance are projected onto the back wall for all to see. I was reminded how voyeuristic it is to be an audience member sitting in the dark watching other people’s lives being played out before me. However, in this production it is not just a life that is being presented for our gaze—it is the mind and more specifically the fantasies of the main character that are on display. This is what I really liked about The Trial of K. It takes the Expressionistic idea of exploring the inner workings of the mind and equates it with surveillance. The production’s comments on surveillance in society are at times a bit unsettling. I felt as though I was peering into the mind of the main character—as if I was one of those people (the They) who watch us on all these hidden (or not-so-hidden) cameras.
Our title character, K., has been accused of a crime. What the charges are he is never told, but that is not important. What is important is that he’s been accused and he must defend himself. At first K. doesn’t take the charges very seriously and sees them as more of a nuisance than anything else, but as time passes word of his case gets out and he is compelled to put an end to it. The courts are located in a multi-leveled house in a middle-class neighborhood and every room he goes into contains a bleak and frequently erotic adventure. In his quest for acquittal he discovers that “Innocence never helps but influences do.” So he seeks out those who have influence on the court, only to find himself on a twisting trail of endless bureaucracy. The whole time, K. is shadowed by a Kafka character who seems to be writing the story as it plays out.
The first half of this hour-and-forty-minute jaunt is so visually stimulating. It is filled with K.’s erotic fantasies, played out with beautifully stylized movement and choreographed dance. All the acting is hyper-real and it seems that every gesture has been meticulously rehearsed. There are a handful of songs that have been adapted a little to fit the play’s needs. In the second half, the song and dance numbers drop off and the play becomes more serious. As K.’s case begins to go badly and he becomes stressed by the anxiety of it all the play transforms itself to fit his mood. However, I found that I sort of missed the excitement and over-stimulation of the ensemble driven first half.
Synaesthetic’s artist collective nature pours forth from its fantastic ensemble. Everyone works in equal parts on this show and that pays off in a very stylistically even presentation. Margaret O’Sullivan delivers an absolutely stunning performance. She plays K. with so much focus that I could see her making connections to the character before my very eyes. She made me forget that she is a woman playing a man. The women of the ensemble, Aubrey Hardwick, Ginger Legon, Tina West Chavous, and Joy Lynn Alegarbes, all play male roles at some point but when they are not playing men they throw feminine sexuality about the stage with playful roughness that is quite rousing. It is interesting to note that the three men in the show, Ted Hannan, M.A. Makowski, and Clinton Powell, at some point all have a feminine quality to their characters. I really enjoyed the bending of gender roles in this production. Two performances that stood out for me were Ted Hannan as the naughty, lap dancing judge and Aubrey Hardwick as the painter with connections.
The co-directors, Joy Leonard and Chris Nichols, create a unique world that is episodic, like a dream interrupted by the reality of bureaucracy. Their focus of the eroticism of K.’s thoughts makes the show into a sort of "Trial of K., S & M"…but that works for the film noir style they establish early on. But, as I mentioned before, the spirit of that style does not span the whole play and there were times when I felt far away from the action. Overall, I like that they don’t attempt to over-interpret the text and instead leave much of the meaning for their audience to interpret.
The technical aspects of the production are outstanding. There is a short film directed by John DesRoches that illustrates Kafka’s culminating parable of the door splendidly. David Crittenden’s costumes are fabulous. The lighting, provided by Paul Hudson, is attractive and evocative. The original music composed by Rench is a lulling trip-hop fantasy in and of itself. Finally, David Szlasa’s set is an innovatively practical design in which set pieces lift right out of the stage.
The production values for this remarkable piece of theatre are equal to its insights into our current society. You don’t have to know Kafka’s novel to enjoy the show, but you will want to bring your appreciation for high art.