Does Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ Have Lessons for Today?

    Matthew Reisener

    Society, Americas

    Franz Kafka monument in Prague​.

    The Syntetic theater’s bold adaptation of The Trial features the surrealism, disorientation and overwhelming sense of dread that one would expect from Kafka.

    Paata Tsikurishvili, the founding artistic director of Synetic Theater in Arlington, Virginia, is famous for his wordless productions of plays ranging from Shakespeare to Moliere to Dante. His cast of actors fuses mime, dance and music to create dramas that may refer to the present but have an artistic merit that also transcend it. The theater is known for its avant-garde approach and symbolic vision, which carry viewers into a deeper understanding of the plays.

    When I interviewed Tsikurishvili this past weekend, he noted that “there are times when we have to keep silent, and there are other times when we just can’t, when we have to speak up.” Tsikurishvili’s production of Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, which was published posthumously in 1925, is a case in point. The play recently concluded its run at Synetic, where it featured the surrealism, disorientation and overwhelming sense of dread that one would expect from Kafka. Kafka, a German Jewish novelist who lived in Prague during the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian empire, focused on themes of despair, alienation and solitude. The term “Kafkaesque” has itself become a synonym for a nightmarish and illogical situation. In a diary entry, Kafka wrote, “Enclosed in my own four walls, I found myself as an immigrant imprisoned in a foreign country.”

    In Tsikurishvili’s captivating production, which imagined protagonist Josef K. as the lone human in a world populated with anthropomorphic insects, the messages conveyed by the performance is loud and clear. Tsikurishvili’s play ran against a compelling national political backdrop of ongoing debates surrounding government surveillance, and questions about the inherent fairness of the legal system. There is no question that global terrorism and other threats have made it necessary to increase surveillance, but their impact on human liberty and dignity also raises real and serious questions.

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