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No sooner do you walk into the building where New Century Theatre Company’s “The Trial” is playing, than you are thrust into Kafka’s absurd world. You may not enter the theater. You must wait behind a curtain of plastic strips. When allowed to pass from that strange anteroom, you wait again for a beautiful, long-legged guide dressed in a miniskirt and lab coat to take you to a seat.

Later she’ll appear in the production, but now she’s just an efficient escort, and don’t ask her any questions. The theater is small with seats on three sides, seats set up like jury boxes. You can’t choose where to sit. Kafka’s unreasonable world is one where human choice is limited, where unknown forces prevail.

It’s Joseph K’s story you’re about to witness. K wakes up on his birthday and quickly discovers that it’s not a day for real celebration. Two dark-suited, sneering men are there to tell him of his arrest.

“What’s going on?” asks K, who has no reason to think he’s guilty of anything.

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He’ll never find out the charges against him. No one seems to know, and no one finds that at all unusual. Poor K, he’s powerless; he can’t understand what’s happening. Supercilious bureaucrats and functionaries have control over him. They claim that they know nothing, yet they have the ability to lead him further into the vortex in which he’s trapped. It’s irrational human existence in a chaotic world.

The scene switches back and forth from K’s office, where there’s a semblance of normalcy, to the interrogation room, legal offices, court and other venues where the world seems to have gone mad. K’s guilt is more and more obvious to the functionaries. K keeps begging to find out what he’s charged with. He learns nothing. It’s persecution by unknown forces that are part of a legal structure that’s built on sham. Lawyers don’t fare well in Kafka’s world.

Adapted by Kenneth Albers and directed by John Langs, this production beautifully captures the preposterous, bizarre human condition as Kafka views it. Geoff Korf’s lighting design and Robertson Witmer’s sound design reinforce the absurd happenings and K’s deterioration and bewilderment. This is a dark work, and dark is the stage. Dark, too, are many of Kimberley Newton’s costumes. Not Amy Thone’s. Dressed in white, she charges around on a motorized chair. But don’t mistake her for a white knight who will save K.

The acting is precise, finely honed. From those attractive guides who double as secretaries, to Darragh Kennan as the bewildered, crumbling K, the actors control your emotions throughout. The performances are highly stylized but exactly right for this spellbinding piece.

Nancy Worssam:

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