by Allan Piper
directed by Allan Piper
at the Loeb Experimental Theater
April 20-22, 7:30 p.m.; April 22, 2:30 p.m.
The program for "The Trial" claims that Allan Piper's comedy playing this weekend at The Loeb Ex has nothing to do with the novel by Franz Kafka of the same name. An unfinished work published posthumously, Kafka's The Trial concerns a man's confrontation with a bureaucracy he cannot understand. He is tried for an unspecified crime by an enigmatic legal authority and all of his efforts to obtain justice result in frustration and a loss of human dignity. In the end, he is stabbed to death. Some critics call it an allegory of the quest for divine justice. It is not comical.
Allan Piper's production, on the other hand, is quite funny. In fact, it's a little crazy. The only similarity between the Piper and Kafka texts is that they are both stories of men fighting against loony justice systems.
Piper's protagonist, Zedekiah Maine (Geoff Gladstone), is a high school English teacher with a great deal of bad luck. While walking to the apartment of his girlfriend Angela (Sara Smith), Zed is mugged by Ernest Bugger (Mike McGraw), who takes his wallet, money, overcoat and the flowers he was going to give Angela. Ernest is immediately arrested, but the process Zed goes through between the arrest and the actual trial is a trial in and of itself for Zed. The police harass him, he is mistaken for a transvestite and his students harangue him. Everything culminates in the final scene when Ernest is tried but Zed is prosecuted. Chaos ensues.
Gladstone plays Zed with Woody Allen's-not Kafka's-angst, complaining and sarcastically barbing his detractors. Sometimes Zed's commentary is a little too clever to be seem spur of the moment as sarcastic barbs should, but the lines are funny nonetheless and Gladstone effectively conveys Zed's frustration at being in center of such a farce.
The performances of the enormous cast (some of the posters read: "You must know someone in it") are mostly passable. All of Piper's characters are cartoonish, but they are played with a great deal comedic prowess. The standout is the prosecuting attorney, outrageously played by Paul Siemens. Loud, obnoxious, and similar to William Jennings Bryant in his legal style, Siemens overwhelms everyone on stage as he assassinates Zed's character. The bland, short-skirted defense attorney (Emmy Cattani) never had a chance, in legalese or stage presence.
Brett Conner's Renard, a mime and Zed's former college roommate, is the center of two of the play's most absurb and amusing moments: a scene from a play in which he plays a door and the scene in which he testifies for the prosecution. There isn't anything quite as wonderfully weird as non sequitur mime.
Zed's gimmicky firstyear high school students steal scenes as well. The one with the stomach flu (Felix Cheung) and the pretentious actress (Karin Lewicki) are the most memorable.
"The Trial's" problems arrive with the set changes, staging and technical cues. In the very short first act, there are so many loud and clumsy set changes that they occasionally overshadow the scenes they are setting up for some times the set change will last longer than the scene. On the night the Crimson reviewed the play, a few of the lights came on before the stage crew exited.
Additionally, the way that Piper has his actors sit in the audience and enter the stage from their seats is distracting. In the high school scene, he puts Zed's students in the audience and they interact with him from their seats. Much of the audience cannot see the actors this way. They are left staring at the back of their heads.
"The Trial" hits its stride when Piper pushes the comedy. Renard's miming, the scene when Zed is mistaken for a transvestite, and the moments when Zed's student's stomach flu "affects" everyone else are all hysterical. The chaotic finale in the courtroom is the most insane moment of the play. Directing the entire enormous cast in such a tornado of action is to Piper's credit.
"The Trial" isn't terribly deep. By invoking Kafka's name in the posters and programs, there is an expectation of higher meaning. The big joke is that there isn't really any meaning at all besides "Life sucks." There is no quest for divine justice. The show is sloppy and not terribly tight, but the actors have some great lines and are allowed to go nuts with their characters. Quick and funny, "The Trial" is a good time.