The Trial | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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National Pastime Theater.

The juicy irony of Kafka's title is--there is no trial. In Kafka's novel, Joseph K. celebrates his 30th birthday by getting arrested for an unknown crime, then finds himself sucked into an expressionistic maze of faceless bureaucracies and impenetrable procedures that all assume his guilt, offering him no hope for confronting his nonaccusers. Instead Kafka focuses on Joseph's real trial--his attempt to preserve his sanity--and his real guilt: his unwillingness to strike at the unaccountable mediocrity that ensnares and finally extinguishes him. Joseph is Kafka.

Both the abstract trial and the abstract guilt burst into truth in National Pastime's strenuous revival of Steven Berkoff's adaptation. Wearing monochromatic costumes and grim pancake makeup, the 13 cast members erupt in stylized movement and mechanical mime, flawlessly directed by Roger Smart. The diabolical complexity of their elaborate charade is sharply mirrored in J.J. Porterfield's pulsating score, played live. Marching menacingly and carrying symbolically empty door frames, this ensemble is tight as a noose. Though Michael Hargrove is too dynamic to suggest the stereotypical bank clerk, he tackles the acrobatic central role with the requisite hysteria. As Joseph's happily impotent defense counsel, Arch Harmon suggests an awesome, sinister indifference, while Michael Quaintance makes much of a wry turn as a fashionably corrupt painter who delights in blaming the victim.

Ragged in spots, Smart's staging still drives home Kafka's nightmare--the invisible evil of inaccessible justice. Seventy years after his novel was written, it's hard not to see that same evil here.

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