New Century Theatre Company at Inscape, 815 Seattle Blvd. S., wearenctc.org. $15–$30. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 7 p.m. Sun. Ends April 28.
Appropriately, the journey starts in a queue in the nondescript hallway of a former immigrant-processing facility. “If you feel drowsy, please sleep. If you feel hot, please sweat . . . ” a neutral voice commands from the PA system. A lab-coated scientist admits you to another antechamber, where you are measured and “sorted” to determine your seating in the steep gallery. Percy Faith’s muzak-y “Theme From A Summer Place” loops as though you’ve been put on hold in hell. Which you sort of have, intentionally, by chronically impressive director John Langs. It’s a perfect welcome to the plight of Josef K, protagonist of Franz Kafka’s 1915 novel, in this new adaptation by Kenneth Albers.
Bank administrator K. (Darragh Kennan), awakens to discover he’s “under arrest” by thugs who may or may not be “official.” The rest of the engrossing 100-minute ordeal follows his search to determine what he’s accused of and how to get himself acquitted of whatever that turns out to be. A parade of bizarre characters roughly correlates to those in the book, but with some differences. Kafka’s jargon-spewing male invalid lawyer here becomes kooky Sophie Kleist (a hilarious, baroque-haired Amy Thone) buzzing about in an electric wheelchair. Kafka’s male painter Titorelli is here fabulously incarnated by Alexandra Tavares as a dominating (and very female) court sculptor. Both she and a fleet of bank secretaries, garbed by Kimberly Newton in fascist-era décolletage, discreetly wear their breasts like torture implements that need only be hinted at occasionally to keep men in line. The secretaries rotate their ankles in hypnotic unison and slap bureaucratic papers around in an empty display of pseudo-efficiency, lest we hope for a second that the world is anything but a bad dream.
Despite anchoring every scene, Kennan keeps his everyman modest, letting the supporting cast outsize him with adamant oddness. (Notable players include Michael Patten, MJ Sieber, Hannah Mootz, and Marty Mukhalian.) Geoff Korf’s interrogational lighting and Robertson Witmer’s sound design further dwarf K. on Jennifer Zeyl’s lean but effective sets. Candelabra and curtains bring a vein of gothic horror into the sterile bureaucratic abstraction. As in the book, don’t expect answers about what happens to Josef K. Paraphrasing Kafka’s notion about God, NCTC’s mood-rich production delivers the nuts, but leaves them for you to crack.