New Century Theatre’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial opens tonight, April 5, at the INScape Arts Building. JTNews spoke with Darragh Kennan, the company’s artistic director who will also be leading the cast as Josef K., to discuss the play and NCTC’s goals for the production.
JTNews: What is The Trial about?
Darragh Kennan: The basic plot is that Josef K., who is Kafka’s everyman, wakes up one morning and realizes he’s been placed under arrest. He doesn’t know why he’s been arrested, and he spends the length of the play trying to find out what he had done that caused him to be arrested. It deals with his own relationships, his ego, his insecurity, what becomes his paranoia, and his humanity. He’s trying to figure out what he can take back and what he’s at the mercy of. [Kenneth Albers’ adaptation] is exciting, it’s sexy, and it’s really funny in a dark way. And ultimately, it’s poignant. It reflects our own humanity. People will be able to look at the play and think, “What am I abdicating right now in my life? What am I not taking ownership over? What am I taking for granted? What am I fighting for?” All these bigger questions of why we’re here on this planet.
JT: What made NCTC choose to produce The Trial at INScape, which used to be the INS building?
DK: We looked around for a place to do it, and this really unique situation with this great theater company called Satori Group [came up]. They were just moving into their new space [in] the old INS building. I thought, “That’s just too good to be true,” in terms of Kafka. The room that we’re performing our play in is the room where people used to be sworn in as US citizens. And the story of The Trial, with personal freedom and isolation and identity and government bureaucracy — it was a great fit for us.
JT: How did you translate the ambiguity and dreaminess of the story to the stage?
DK: There’s so much in terms of ambiguity. People might be spying on him, or it might be in his head. There might be a friend in the room, or that person might be working for the government. It questions everything. So I think it’s engaging and electric and dangerous at all times, and it’s very active. I don’t think of it as “dreamy” in terms of the pursuit and the forward momentum of the play.
JT: NCTC’s motto is “where risk and craft collide.” What risks are you taking with this production?
DK: I think it’s risky to do Kafka. But more risky than that is to not hide behind anything in our production. It’s going to be in a tiny room, and you’re going to be surrounded by people in a tiny rectangle. It’s a very little set. In order to have a moving evening of theater, we have to put ourselves out there. Emotionally, it’s risky. It’s vulnerable and raw to try and create truth in a tiny space like that where the audience is right there with you. And the craft is putting our experience to work and really calling each other out when we feel something is phony and not authentic in a storytelling sense. It’s theatrically risky, too. It’s about doing things that challenge the audience’s imagination in a theatrical way.
JT: Tell us about New Century Theatre Company’s background.
DK: [NCTC] got started in 2007. We’re unusual because we’re mid-level career professionals — we’re not young twenty-somethings getting started right out of college. There’d been a loss of theaters that were in the mid-range in terms of professional theaters in town. The Empty Space had closed, and Tacoma Actors [Guild] had closed. There were the big professional theaters like Seattle Repertory Theatre, Fifth Avenue Theatre, and ACT, but there wasn’t really a middle ground. There wasn’t a way for young actors to take the next step before they bridged the gap into the bigger houses. There was a need, we thought, to keep people in town — a lot of people had been leaving. We also thought we could do theater that was more centered on acting and storytelling, and not doing other people’s thinking for them. People could come to a show of ours and it would be a very theatrical experience, with a very small, stripped-down set and just actors in a room telling stories. That was exciting to us. We’re trying to blend dangerous theatricality with human stories.
JT: What do you hope the audience takes away from The Trial?
DK: We don’t do our audience’s thinking for them. I don’t necessarily expect people to explore moral and ethical issues, but we as a company look for plays that have that potential. For this show, I would love it if the audience could think about where they abdicate responsibility in their lives, or where they make choices that are almost passing the buck. But if they can see themselves in any way, and think about something in their life, then that’s a home run for me. I don’t necessarily need them to have the exact same response, nor do I want that. And I don’t want to tell them what the response needs to be. I just want to set it up in such a way that humanity is what’s in front of them. And if we do it right, they’ll see themselves in that humanity.