Amerika, or the Disappearance.
(THEATRE DE LA JEUNE LUNE; 300 SEATS; $28 TOP)
MINNEAPOLIS A Theatre de la Jeune Lune presentation of a play in one act, adapted by Gideon Lester, Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand from the unfinished novel by Franz Kafka. Directed by Serrand. Sets and video design, Serrand; lighting, Marcus Dilliard; production stage manager, Jennifer Eve Schuchert. Opened, reviewed Jan. 21, 2006. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.
With: Sarah Agnew, Stephen Cartmell, Steven Epp, Nathan Keepers, Luverne Gerald Seifert, Suzanne Warmanen, Shad Cooper, Katrina Hawley, Jennifer J. Phillips, Travis Lund.
Theatre de la Jeune Lune's adaptation of Franz Kafka's unfinished novel premiered in 2005 at Cambridge's American Repertory Theater, though for its own stage the company has trimmed its three-hour length and cut the number of characters. So much the better, for this challenging and resonant production provides a mix of revelation and tedium to match its source material's own aesthetic.
The action opens with Karl (Nathan Keepers) banished from Europe to America after an episode involving the impregnation of a servant. He's foisted on immigrant-success-story Uncle Jacob (Steven Epp), who promptly convicts him as an 01d World bumpkin unworthy of cultivating. Karl is subsequently consigned to the American road, with a first stop at the country home of Texan Mr. Green (Luverne Gerald Seifert), a cigar-chomping caricature (and a funny one) and sexpot daughter Klara (Sarah Agnew), who fairly well chews up Karl and spits him out into darker byways of the American territory.
Keepers' Kafka surrogate deals with the author's signature intimidating men and alternately terrifying and nurturing women with a good deal of quaking and a consistently overwhelmed mien. What fascinates about this adaptation for the stage (by Gideon Lester, with additional adaptation by Epp and director Dominique Serrand) is its crackling awareness of Kafka's inveterate outsider spinning yarns about the mythical land of inclusion, and his own insufficiency in the face of its attendant challenges.
Eventually Karl descends considerably in station and falls in with a couple of itinerant laborers--the arch Delamarche (Epp, again) and Robinson (Seifert). Matters take a turn for the solidly surreal, with a stint for Karl working at the Western Hotel eventually falling through, followed by a turn as essentially a slave to Delamarche (in a squirm-inducing moment, he is referred to as the Frenchman's "negro.")
A semi-poetic conclusion sees Karl joining a theater company and going to a better place. We're happy for Karl, though feeling a bit worn out for our side. Jeune Lune's adaptation, in its latest form, manages one great connection to its source--it focuses on Kafka's deep and sporadic sense of humor. Like the author from whom it drew its source, this production is equal parts transcendent, banal, incomprehensible and shockingly lucid.