When Franz Kafka read the first chapter of “The Trial” to his friends, he had great difficulty getting through it: he repeatedly found himself laughing until he cried. Ken Prestininzi’s “Amerikafka,” currently at the Trap Door Theatre, likewise explodes the myth of Kafka’s brooding isolation, mixing a free adaptation of Kafka’s “Amerika” with the rich, vulgar traditions of Yiddish theater to yield a remarkably deep portrait. From the opening tableau of a vulnerably naked Franz (Tom Bateman) exercising to stave off his tuberculosis to the final embrace between Franz and his naïve creation Frankie K (K. K. Dodds), Kate Hendrickson’s production balances the play’s wild imagination and its passionate exploration of Kafka’s emotional life. Bateman, Dodds, and Jason Powers (as the theater impresario Lowy) all give compelling, physically dynamic performances. Powers leaps across the stage as if sustaining his fragile company out of his own reserves of spirit. Dodds is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as she navigates the sunny depths of Amerika. And Bateman inhabits the tonal complexity of one of the last century’s strangest and knottiest minds with a fiery pathos. The production is marred only by an apparent belief in the shock value of women exposing their underwear, lapses in tone all the more unfortunate given the brilliant, thoughtful quality of the play as a whole. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.