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Amerika

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In June, Gideon Lester, associate artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., unveiled his adaptation of Franz Kafka's "Amerika," a book The Boston Globe called "leavened with humor." Maybe the Redux Theatre Company feels the heat: Alexander Poe's deliriously spastic take, directed by Poe and Joseph Varca, could easily be subtitled "Keeping Kafka Kooky, or Finding Farce in Franz."

One key alteration makes this possible: Kafka (Ben Correale) himself drives the play, consigning Karl Rossmann (Toby Lawless), the teenager whose frolic with a maid in the original, unfinished novel leads him to take a surreal sojourn across America, to a secondary position in the story. Here, Kafka meets Zoltan (the terrific Noah Bean), a carnival barker of a carnivorous sort, just as Kafka loses his deadly dull day job, having overspent his time lobbying Grubach (Anthony Nelson) to publish his fiction.

Like a dip into Alice's Wonderland or a cyclone trip to Oz, Kafka and Zoltan are soon transported to parts unknown -- America and beyond -- both men quickly realizing that Kafka's typewriter has a classically Kafka-like power: It allows the typist to control the story's direction. A grand destiny battle ensues, one featuring Kafka, Zoltan, and many of the novel's other characters, such as Clara (Katie Honaker), Gregor (Jesse Hooker), Klamm (Chris Thorn), and Hermann (Sean Nelson). It's a scenario with which Pirandello would not have been uncomfortable.

The cast's execution of the conceit is exceptional -- this is perhaps the first doorless farce I've ever seen. Which is also to say that the unfurling of the plot really isn't farcical at all. Scenes are far longer, in fact, than you'd expect. It is the heightened, hilarious performance style of the cast that is farcical and so great to watch. Just as there is gloominess, this group has found the gooniness in Kafka.

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