The Castle – Franz Kafka

Near the end of The Castle, K sits outside the forever closed gate of the mysterious castle to which he desperately wants to gain admittance. Herr Erlanger, top secretary to the all-powerful Herr Klamm, has a line that is almost a throwaway. He mentions to K that he could indeed sit there, perhaps forever, waiting in vain to get in, but reminds him that there are paths amongst the trees that lead away. He might just follow one of them and see where it goes. In other words, he could walk away from his fruitless obsession.

It is an odd play, to the sophisticated viewer almost devoid of suspense, since what Kafka protagonist ever actually wins his battle with the forces pitted against him? The only question that remains is what the character learns. Does he, like Sisyphus, earn some nobility by understanding and accepting the pitiful existential condition to which he is doomed?

K—he has no other name—is a "land surveyor," and he is unsuccessfully trying to reach the castle on the hill above a tiny village in order to fulfill what he believes is an assignment to do some work. The villagers are a mysterious, suspicious lot, all in the service of the castle in one way or another. To succeed, K must follow the rules they set down, but the rules melt before his eyes like Dali’s watches.

David Fishelson and Aaron Leichter have created a smooth and powerful adaptation of Max Brod’s dramatic version of the tale. It is a chilling nightmare with echoes of Alice in Wonderland, Oedipus Rex, and even The Wizard of Oz. K, however, has no Toto to pull the curtain aside to reveal the funny little man pulling the levers.

As K, William Atherton offers a bravura performance. He is quite impudent as the story begins, fresh out of the world of logical cause and effect. His confidence, piece by piece, is slowly cut away. He steals Herr Klamm’s mistress, but doesn’t seem to realize that no good can come of that. Nothing seems to work-he doesn’t even get much pleasure from his new mistress. He is perpetually frustrated, and he could just throw up his hands and walk away, but he doesn’t. This is part of the strange power of the play, and seems both mysterious and oddly familiar at the same time. Who, after all, has not pursued a path, a goal, an obsession far beyond the reasonable?

Atherton beautifully captures the cockiness, the growing frustration and eventual despair of the character. His resume is heavy in the area of film acting, but here in an off-Broadway theatre he seems perfectly at home. He uses the full range of his voice, he projects his emotions to the back row of the theatre, he finds the dark humor in Kafka, and he knows how and when to remain silent and motionless, with confidence that the audience will do some of the work for him.

Rich voiced, sexy Catherine Curtin plays Herr Klamm’s mistress with visceral power, sly humor, and sometimes frightening rage. Her voice, when she chooses to employ its full power, could be a weapon against terrorism. Jim Parson and Grant James Varjas prance and stumble—with an unsettling blend of horror and hilarity—as K’s identical assistants, Jeremiah and Arthur.

Scenic designer Anna Louizos has created a flexible, chilly setting. Much of the action takes place in a giant plastic box that has the look of a huge ice cube. Scott Schwartz is a director known for his strong sense of theatricality and the outrageous. His recent credits include Bat Boy, The Musical and tick, tick…Boom! Here he perfectly captures the fluid movement from one absurd moment to the next even more absurd moment. He has helped his actors create characterizations that are over the top and yet seem firmly based and emotionally true at the same time