La Mama Theatre dares you to cast judgment on Aaron Orzech and Samara Hersch adaption of the Franz Kafka all consuming piece, The Judgement.
The “Jewish Mystic” wrote this story in 1912 and it is often assumed autobiographical in nature. If you are unfamiliar with his work, this interpretation will intrigue you initially and bewilder you eventually.
The story entirely conceived the night before the Jewish Day of Atonement.
A ritualistic story between Abraham and Isaac at Mount Moriah. The choice between higher purpose in life and everyday living. Kafka in his writing mimicked his own real life struggles.
Hersch direction intimidates from the opening scene. Daniel Schlusser holds a steely stare, Mary Helen Sassman appears alongside him and a rather odd looking fellow Joshua Ferenbach; all dressed in Russian KPG uniforms.
They’re seated behind a long table reminiscent of the table depicted in the last supper with Jesus and his disciples. A visual image of the religious and political imagery of the uprisings in Russia in the early 1900’s.
The characters are thrust upon us rather than introduced. Black and white photographs in frames of relatives are used as props. One picture is the main character’s deceased mother. Schlusser and Sassman speak in monotone news reporting tone. Ferenbach seconds some details with awkward sounding paraphrasing. Soon after they remove their uniform jackets and reveal the modern costumes of their characters.
This introduction was slightly lost in this translation. Though the Kafka devotees would recognise the symbolism of Russian influences and his ongoing challenge with his overpowering father figure in real life.
Aaron Orzech is Georg Bendemanns. A successful young business man. An almost invisible figure sitting at one end of the elongated table, compared with the imposing figure of his father – Schlusser, at the other end.
He quietly writes to his bachelor friend in St Petersburg of his impending marriage to his fiancé Frieda – Sassman. His friend, a bachelor, and flailing businessman, has previously tried to convince Georg to come to Kiev.
This unnamed friend is Joshua Ferenbach. Who now wears an Ushunka Fur hat, a funky modern red tracksuit and a full beard representing a Russian monk. He sits at the table nameless with minimal and silent interaction from the others. He features as an effective background character.
Orzech and Hersch write and direct Georg in a panic attack state. He is all nerves and heavy breathing in his journey to give up his bachelorhood. Trying to please and convince his father, his friend and mainly himself of his love for Frieda and married life. He explores his sensual being dancing with his fiancé while fraught with his guilt of his widowed father’s grief and ailing health.
All the characters explore their conflictions. I had to assume the scene which had no dialogue, severe lighting and actions was to establish the dream sequences. There was disturbing strobe lighting and then dim red lighting similar to a photographer’s darkroom. Exciting at first then irritating.
A deliberate confusion on the collaborators behalf? Their interpretation of the state of mind of their muse, Kafka?
An open mind and optical concentration is required to determine the imagery representing the characters past and present lifestyle dilemmas. Slowly sitting down gestures and dim lighting was an interesting way off moving through the acts. The third occurrence was not necessary.
Costume changes and the ever present enormous table provided some comic relief. Frieda wears a Hen’s Night sash with “Feonyce”.
The friend does a sexy dance on the table in his red tracksuit. Ferenbach having a very slight frame, long beard and in his Ushanka hat; resembles the popular 1990’s recording artist “Jamiroquai” not a 1900’s Monk or bachelor.
The father wearing only an in-continence nappy; slides out of the scene, under long overhanging tablecloth.
The engaged couple engage in pre marital affairs under the table. With Georg caught by his father with his pants down, literally.
Schlusser embodied his character entirely. The threatening KPG Officer, manipulative father and a convincing invalid.
Sassman appears gentile and subservient preparing food and beverages for her husband to be. She shocks in the dream sequence.
Ferenbach portrays the oddball distant friend. He is surprisingly present for an unforeseen and nameless character.
Orzech is Kafka’s son, lover and a businessman. His successful collaboration with Hersch is evident till the end.
Orzech and Hersch have produced a visual, provocative and sensual version of Kafka’s short story. For light sensitive viewers, the performance should come with a strobe light warning. This production has dark undertones and definite shock factor.