joseph k

Franz Kafka influenced so many great artists across a diversity of genres that it's impossible to categorize him or his work. Writers and thinkers in the realms of modernism, magical realism, existentialism, Marxism, anarchism, Judaism, Freudianism, and metaphysics have all laid claim to his influence.

Yet Kafka was simply a highly sensitized individual who, long before most everyone else, saw the dire implications of the forces that were building all around him. Indeed, after he died, members of his own family perished in the Holocaust, changing what was perceived by others at the time as Kafka's paranoia into prescience.

Dan O'Neill as joseph k, on trial
Dan O'Neill as joseph k,
"on trial"
Unsure what his disturbing visions meant, he ordered his friend and literary executor, Max Brod, to destroy The Trial, as well as his other works. Thankfully, after Kafka's death, Brod ignored these wishes and published what turned out to be one of the most important novels of the Twentieth Century.

About 60 years later, Martin McGovern, working with James Gale and the Ad Hoc Theatre Company in Houston, adapted the novel into a play—joseph k—about a third of the material coming from the original, a third from other Kafka source material, and about a third from McGovern's own poetic pen.

The regional premiere of this work, now running at the BINDERY | space, the long time home of The LIDA Project, is directed by Brian Freeland, whose mastery of experimental theatre and media lays the groundwork for this stunning, multi-faceted production that externalizes the intense psychological forces of Kafka's work and McGovern's script with a striking scenic design, including a gigantic revolving hamster wheel, legerdemain with a spinning set piece, shadowy silhouettes, and haunting sounds.

In addition to subdividing the author into Kafka (Josh Hartwell) and joseph k (Dan O'Neill), the victim of The Trial, McGovern's script and Freeland's direction combine to amplify the figments of Kafka's vivid imaginings into visceral encounters.

Hartwell's Kafka is a cool, analytical narrative voice that heightens the contrast with his alter ego, joseph k, an alternately terrified and hopeful Dan O'Neill.

(Left to right) Dan O'Neill as joseph k, Josh Hartwell as Kafka, and Elizabeth Parks as the shadowy assistant
(L to R) Dan O'Neill as joseph k,
dissected by Josh Hartwell as Kafka,
and Elizabeth Parks as the shadowy assistant
Joseph k works in a bank and tries tirelessly to maintain the life of a good bourgeois, but he is tormented by visions of imminent arrest and torture. His love life is equally plagued, imagining maliciousness and faithlessness in every female encounter. Freeland turns this neurosis into an archetype with the multiple castings of Elgin Kelley (Fraulein Burstner / Leni / Fraulein Montag / Urchin Girl) and Julie Rada (Felice / Wife / Urchin Girl), who do alluring and menacing with equal relish.

Ken Witt's Huld horrifies us with his transformation from friend to inquisitor, as if he were visiting from one of Freeland's early seminal works, an adaptation of Orwell's 1984, where Winston is betrayed to the Party.

The superintendent of joseph k's building, Frau Grubach (Petra Ulrych) offers him an apple and we see this—in Kafka's mind's eye—as nothing but the original temptation of Adam by Eve, with Ulrych eliciting maximum effect from the surreal style invoked by Freedland with her emphasis on the metaphorical allusions in the script and by Steven J. Deidel's malevolent lighting effects.

The rest of the ensemble provides equally sinister moments, taunting joseph k, subjecting him to whippings, and mocking his meager defense of his life.

(Left to right) Dan O'Neill as joseph k and Josh Hartwell as Kafka in front of the relentless wheel
(L to R) Dan O'Neill as joseph k
and Josh Hartwell as Kafka
in front of the relentless wheel
In retrieving Kafka from his literary milieu and rooting out his psychological and prophetic underpinnings, McGovern, with a striking realization from Freeland, lays bare the great writer's insights into human frailty and his vision of the clear and present danger of corporate fascism, with its attendant demons of interrogation, humiliation, torture, and fear.

The Lida Project's production of joseph k runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM through June 20th. 720-221-3821.

Bob Bows


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