Post Romantic Theater’s puppet play now on ‘Trial’

Any time a play opens with two puppets having sex to the Macarena — as does Post Romantic Theater's "The Trial" — the viewer should immediately return to the lobby and ask for his or her money back.

"The Trial," by Franz Kafka, is the story of Joseph K, a man accused of a crime he eventually discovers is "intellectual" and "abstract." The problem is, no one — from the inept agents who come to arrest him or the pompous figures of the hideously contorted "court" to which he is ordered to report — can tell him exactly what that crime is. The play follows Joseph K's trajectory from a respectable bank official to a confused and frustrated fixture of the Twilight Zone-ish world he entered upon his arrest.

Kafka's play is ostensibly a pseudo-logical commentary on the court and labor systems — much of Joseph K's ever-present frustration results from his futile attempts to navigate the bureaucratic hell that is the "court" while trying to keep up his appearances at work. Since criticizing "The Man" is nothing new, the performance differentiates itself with incomprehensible dialogue and double-speak, absurd and confusing characters with the emotional depth of cardboard and plenty of puppet sex. The latter is oddly and embarrassingly abundant — what impact does watching two puppets, bathed in red light, having loud sex in the midst of a court hearing have? Embarrassed laughter and uncomfortable squirming, judging by the response of the audience.

Of the many ways to execute a play, having puppets perform it instead of actors has to be one of the least intelligent ways to do so. Sure, it's original, but it just doesn't work. The puppets, which are mostly about half the size of regular people, hang from the necks of their human carriers and move their mouths and faces by having the actor's hand inserted (rather disturbingly) into gaping holes in the backs of their heads. The problem with this set-up is that the limbs don't move, there are no facial expressions, and it's often hard to hear the actors, as they are forced to talk down into the puppets.

The puppets do succeed at some points, though, particularly in the grotesquely oversized heads of the agents who come to arrest Joseph K and the grandiose judge who presides over Joseph K's hearings. The most interesting puppet of all is actually a gallery of five or so puppets, meant to represent Joseph K's coworkers that move as one unit, strapped by a harness to an actress' chest.

It's worth mentioning that the play is $15 with a $1 surcharge to pay by credit or debit card and there are no student discounts. That's a hefty sum when one can go see a (much better) presentation at the Rep for about $10 or a movie for closer to $8.

Grade: D

"The Trial" runs through May 8 at Bucketworks, located at 1319 N. Martin Luther King Dr. Tickets are $15. More information is available by calling 305-1324 or by visiting www.bucketworks.org.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on April 28 2005.