Theatre ‘d Art’s ‘The Trial’ succeeds with dystopian 1920s world

Jan. 28, 2013

Eleanor Skelton
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Josef K. walks out of his bedroom one morning – his birthday, to be precise – only to be accosted by two men telling him that he is being “arrested” but refuse to define his crime.

Theatre ‘d Art takes the premise of Franz Kafka’s 1925 novel “The Trial,” giving it life and color on the stage. The production ran from Jan. 11 to 27 at the downtown theater. Most of the actors were either UCCS students or have been part of previous VAPA or Theatreworks performances.

“The Trial” features Aaron Dewsnap, a UCCS alumnus, as Josef K., Brittani Janish, a current student, as Leni, as well as Erica Erickson, Erick Groskopf, Danine Schell, Joseph Forbeck, Laura Fuller, Mark Cannon and Thomas Condreas.

Director Brian Mann creates a surreal sensation of almost a hyper-reality for the audience throughout the performance in ways appropriate to Kafka’s style.

One dark red door on wheels is centered on stage at the beginning, and several similar doors are rolled across as scenes change to create and remove rooms, defining the interior and exterior.

The walls between rooms, also painted burgundy and black, are often manipulated between and during acts, sometimes supplemented by the sound of a clock ticking, lending a sense that time and location are fluid and dreamlike.

At the start of the play, these divisions seem mobile yet definable; though in later scenes, rain falls in indoor spaces, again making the audience question its concept of reality.

Furthermore, the overarching idea of being controlled anonymously by a faceless psuedo-government is portrayed by the actor’s genuine confusion and emphasis of lines, such as “that’s not my job” or “this is my job” or “there’s nothing I can do if I want to keep my job.”

1920s-style fedoras, suits and horn-rimmed glasses, worn by much of the cast, remind one of an era with black-and-white film and demonstrate an awareness of the time “The Trial” was published.

Multiple actors break the barrier between the cast and the audience before and during the hour and 45-minute drama.

As audience members were still trickling into their seats, three or four actors in business suits wandered across the stage, whispering among each other and glancing toward the audience. Occasionally, the muttering is distinguishable: “They’re suspicious.”

Later, two female actresses took empty seats in the front row, asking questions to those seated next to them. During the trial scene, most of the cast assimilates into the audience, criticizing Josef K.

Actions like these bring viewers directly into the production – making the audience feel that it is accusing Josef K. and helping bring about his downfall.

Also, the disadvantaged and abused women characters’ role are portrayed by strong acting as the women resist K.’s attempts to rescue them and instead try to please him.

The brief segment with a prostitute and a court clerk copulating in the midst of K.’s hearing as well as the revelation that the examining magistrate’s law books are simply pornography supports the devaluing of women in Kafka’s dystopian world.

Having the same female actors say almost in unison, “Will they even take a girl like me seriously?” They chant “impossible” and are later displayed as little girls in pigtails singing, “Josef K., K.’s gonna die now, yes he is” further multiplies the tensions between gender relationships in the plot.

Classical music such as “Für Elise” faded into other pieces like “Requiem for a Dream” between the climax and denouement, and then “Moonlight Sonata” in the final death scene, showing the story’s vision of order collapsing into chaos, tempered by irony.

The next performance slated for Theater ‘d Art is Ken Kesey’s novel, “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which contains numerous similar overtones to “The Trial.”