The Trial by Franz Kafka


  • Monette Bebow-Reinhard – Mrs. Grubach/Secretary
  • Darby Fitzsimons – Wilhemina/Assassin 1/Court Admin.
  • Stacey Garbarski – Katya/Narrator/Solemn Girl/Priest
  • Shreenita Ghosh – Underling 2/Answer Ma’am
  • Greg Hudson – Joseph K.
  • Jo Krukowski – Miss Burstner/Narrator/Giddy Girl/ Flogger
  • Jake Prine – Franz/Assassin 2/Usher
  • Janine Puleo – Leni/Narrator/Limping Girl
  • Bryan Royston – Examining Judge/Huld/Vice President
  • Emily Swanson – Underling 1/Vigilant Defendant
  • Christopher William Wolter – Inspector/Karl/Titorelli, Assoc. Dir.

The Left Field Trio

  • Cooper Schlegel – bass
  • Jake Bicknase – drums
  • Alex Charland – woodwinds

Director – Jeff Casey

Script – Alex Hancock

Production Manager – David Simmons

Stage Manager – Michael Feakins

Costume Designer – Izzie Karp

Lighting Designer – Ben Krueger

Graphic Designer – Wendy Vardaman

Special thanks to Marie Schulte, Madison Theatre Guild, Nick Barovic Hancock, Jake Penner, Kaye & Sam Cooke, Mary Beth Elliot and Scott Herrick, and Orange Schroeder and UW Professors Hans Adler, Sabine Gross, Greg Wiercioch , Kate Judson and Ralph Grunewald.

Franz Kafka The Trial

Incomprehensibility, Power, Obedience

Judgments about Kafka tend to emphasize the incomprehensible, absurd, ‘strange,’ etc. in his works. “Kafkaesque” is the magic word in this context. Is Kafka, alongside James Joyce and Marcel Proust one of the founders of modern literature, despite or perhaps precisely because of his incomprehensibility? If that were an explanation of Kafka’s spell, then there would be innumerable world-famous authors. Kafka’s works are not in themselves incomprehensible, but incomprehensibility is the underlying theme of his work. Again and again, he leads us to the limits of both understanding and imagination by undermining any allegedly apparent evidence up to the point where any and all evidence dissolves into mere appearance. Reality, thus, is nothing but our perception of it, and appearance is all we have. Here is how Kafka presents this in one of his early texts: “For we are like tree-trunks in the snow. Seemingly they are laid on flat, and with a little nudge you could push them away. No, that can’t be done, for they are connected firmly to the ground. But look, even that is only seeming.” (1912; transl. Joyce Crick). A vertiginous spiral of uncertainty, destroying any illusion of firm cognitive ground. Kafka stops just before providing a diagnosis. He does not provide a therapy because he himself is part of the experience of vertigo, which is one of the characteristic features of modernity.

Josef K. is (as we readers/spectators are) pushed into an incomprehensible situation: arrested without any given reason; by dubious agents; in the twilight of early morning. Neither the court nor the Law (in the singular and with a capital L) correspond to K.’s or our understanding of justice and legal procedures. BUT: The system functions! It is unclear how. It is unclear why. It is unclear with which purpose. And what is more: It is unclear what the Law could be or even whether there is the Law at all. All we have are procedures and representations of the Law which exercise power and which seem to be organized hierarchically. We perceive the appearances but not what is ‘behind’ them or whether there is something behind them at all. BUT: Everyone assumes that there is a structure, an order, a principle of justice, and everybody obeys. The Trial does not tell us what the Law is, The Trial tells us how the Law functions. It is present as a power, represented by a hierarchy that nobody understands as a whole. The society in The Trial is built on mere assumptions of an alleged order. Allegations, or taking things for granted, are the foundation of this society. And that is what has made Franz Kafka with The Trial an author of world literature up until the present day: He reveals modern societies as an ‘anonymous,’ ‘opaque,’ ‘enigmatic’ structure and as it is experienced by its members who believe that there is an order while such an ‘order’ can only be maintained by believing in it. Obeying the status quo can be read as a guilt or even sin, but there is no alternative to obedience as long as ignorance is not acknowledged as a constitutive part of modern humanity. That is why Joseph K. is not executed but killed “Like a dog!”

Hans Adler, Halls-Bascom Professor for Modern Literature Studies

Director’s Note – Jeff Casey, PhD

The best part of this project has been working with an exceptional group of actors. When we began rehearsal, I knew that the finest parts of this play would come from the actors, not from me. This proved true again and again. A play like this one needs spontaneity and improvisation. The funniest moments in this play are ones that the actors improvised on the spot, and the most powerful moments of acting are often ones that the actors discovered themselves. When one sees these moments in rehearsal, they look like magic, but they are in fact the product of an actor’s hard work, intelligence, and creativity being applied night after night to the same problem.

The second most exciting part of this project was working with our remarkable band, the Left Field Trio. It’s been a dream of mine for a while to work collaboratively with a live jazz band. I’ve been continually amazed by Cooper, Alex, and Jacob’s music. The sound that they developed for the show is not simply a soundtrack; it has shaped the show at a fundamental level. The play itself is an improvisational conversation between the actors, the script, and the musicians. It is a genuinely collaborative project, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.

From novel to script – Alex Hancock on crafting Kafka’s The Trial for the stage

Some books that we loved in our youth prove disappointing in later life, but for me The Trial isn’t one of them: when I read it this winter for the first time in four decades, in the hope of adapting it for Fermat’s Last Theater, I found it even more terrifyingly funny than the first time around. And this time I also found it beautiful and moving in ways that surprised me.

But not every great novel can be turned into a play, and The Trial seems singularly ill-suited for the theater: its main character, Josef K, doggedly refuses to change over time, no matter the cost of his refusal; the other characters’ relationships with K seem almost interchangeable; and much of the story is devoid of dramatic tension.

Given those problems, how can anyone hope to pull off Kafka’s greatest novel on stage? For us, much of the answer would lie with the cast and with our director, Jeff Casey. But the first draft of the script needed to offer a structure in which all the director’s and actors’ insights and discoveries could play out; it also needed to capture as much as possible of Kafka’s narrative voice without becoming a “reader’s theater” transcription of that voice.

For many readers, the most intriguing of the many characters Josef K meets are the three young women with whom he connects in various ways: his next-door neighbor Miss Burstner; the unnamed wife of the court usher or bailiff—to whom I gave the name Katya; and Leni, the nurse and helpmeet of K’s ailing lawyer Huld. I asked these three women to narrate the story while moving in and out of the action on stage, and after some cajoling they agreed. With that much of a structure in place, the rest of the adaptation involved honing in on the most essential parts of the story; unfortunately, that meant cutting some wonderful characters and scenes, with a view toward intensifying the dramatic impact of a work that on the page can seem maddeningly diffuse.

“In reality [the Day of Judgment] is a constant court in perpetual session,” Kafka wrote in a different context. When I was 20, The Trial felt like fantasy of the highest order; now, in a world where we exhaust ourselves passing constant judgment on one another, it seems the most inescapable realism. I’m thrilled to be part of Fermat’s realization of this unique work of art.

The Trial – 2016
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