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K. Highlights The Ha Ha In Kafka

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 1, 2010 3:40PM

hypocritesk.jpg That Franz Kafka: what a cutup! In his unfinished novel The Trial, Joseph K. wakes up one morning to discover government agents in his room. They inform him that he's under arrest. They won't tell him what he's been charged with or even what will happen to him, and the more he tries to get to the bottom of things, the murkier things become. In other words, hilarious! Right?

Actually, in the hands of Greg Allen, yes. Most Kafka adaptations (Orson Welles' excellent film included) concentrate on the labyrinthine and nightmarish aspects of his work. Instead, the founding Neo-Futurist hones in on the elemental absurdity of the situation, and he honors the spirit of Kafka while freely drawing parallels to the mind-numbing daily routines of our modern existence and the structural brutality of blind bureaucracy. As it turns out, it's all very funny--as well as chilling. The famous parable of the Law is depicted using shadow puppets. The effect is both delicate and disquieting.

As Joseph K., Brennan Buhl is the glue that holds the show together. The Barrel of Monkeys company member is a gifted comedian with pinpoint timing, making the most of every silly pun and exasperating complication. His enormously appealing stage presence allows us to keenly share every maddening twist he's forced to endure.

A key moment encapsulating Allen's point of view occurs early in the show. Stripped completely naked by his guards, Joseph K. faces the audience and says, "This must be some kind of joke." Exactly. In Allen's philosophy, bringing out the humor in Kafka's work isn't just good for a few cheap laughs--it's actually the best way to get to the heart of his most profound questions about life. And despite the jokes, the production's final moments, when Joseph confronts the consequences of the Law, are moving indeed.

K. is presented by The Hypocrites and runs through November 28 at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division; $28.