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The Trial ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
January 22, 2018 

Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

If Director Paata Tsikurishvili hadn’t come out on stage to announce the serious intent of his production of The Trial, I might wonder why he had taken such a divergent approach to Kafka’s dystopian story of one citizen fighting against a totalitarian government.  In his introduction of what we are about to witness, Tsikurishvili spells out Franz Kafka’s nonsensical world as, “bizarre and illogical, chaos vs. order, and parallel facts.”  This sounds quite relatable under our current administration’s habit of delivering daily tweets filled with “alternative facts”.

Josef K (Shu-nan Chu) is an associate VP at a bank.  He has been accused of an unspecified crime by a specious government agency and must defend himself to the Committee of Affairs.  “The reason for your arrest is kept secret until after the trial,” the Magistrate tells Josef.

Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Enter the insects.  All the characters, save Josef, are bugs – creepy, crawly, undulating, predatory bugs.  From Josef’s friend Anna (Tori Bertocci), a sympathetic and sensuous moth and Mrs. Grubach the landlady (Kathy Gordon triples as Clerk and Leni the seductress bug), to Willem (Chris Willumsen), Josef’s Uncle Karl (Lee Liebeskind), Franz (Thomas Beheler) and Huld the lawyer (Ryan Tumulty who also plays Inspector/Judge/Priest).  These bugs range from cockroaches to the unidentifiable, though I think I noted a shield bug and a caterpillar.  In this convoluted interpretation of Kafka’s nightmare, the government has gone buggy.

Sorting out the imaginary legitimacy of the kangaroo court is fun – for a while.  But eventually, the action devolves into a dark children’s play, an ersatz version of Alice in Wonderland, as opposed to, well, a serious political drama.  Huld, in a motorized chair outfitted with blood-filled IVs, proves more comical than ominous and even the disembodied voices and accompanying electronika don’t provoke a wince.

Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

This is not the caliber of production usually seen from Synetic, a contemporary physical theater company whose work is most notable for their brilliant “Silent Shakespeare” series and other highly creative complex productions.

Costumes by Erik Teague do help set the scene.  They include cleverly inventive interpretations of thoraxes, antennae, leather wings, massive metal pincers and glow-in-the-dark compound eyes designed for maximum spooky impact.  Ultimately, the only real terror is in the prophetic tale.  As the gatekeeper tells Josef, desperate to understand how this inequity has befallen him, “The law is not accessible to all.”  How well we know.

Through February 18th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit

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