The Trial of Judith K

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The Trial of Judith K

Emma Middleton, Scott Button, Jordan Kerbs Top: Alex Pangburn. Photo by Tim MathesonThe Trial of Judith K by Sally Clark
Directed by Tom Scholte
Theatre UBC
Frederick Wood Theatre,
Sept 29 to Oct 8, 2011 - shows at 7:30 PM

Vancouver, BC: Black Comedy? Absurdist theatre? Whatever genre this play falls into, "The Trial of Judith K" would be a difficult script for even a professional company to pull off well and this student production did not entirely succeed in doing so. Without a copy of the script in front of me I am also finding this hard to write about, since other than Jordan Kerbs who plays the title role, each of the other cast members play at least three separate characters (twenty in total) and it's hard to keep them straight in my mind. But here goes.

Canadian playwright Sally Clark is known for her plays featuring strong female protagonists who get into bad situations. In this play, based on Franz Kafka's novel, The Trial, the protagonist is an ambitious bank loan officer, Judith K (Jordan Kerbs). She wakes up one morning to find two strange men, Clem (Mitchell Hookey) and Biff (Alex Pangburn) in her room. They are there to arrest her for a crime she has apparently committed, only neither of them, nor Judith, knows what crime it is. And of course she never finds out.  From then on her life takes on a surreal nature with visits to the court where she encounters  a murderous floor sweeper (Scott Burton),  a "disappeared" landlady (Emma Middleton - who also plays Mrs. Voight, Judith's backstabbing supervisor), a tuberculous prostitute turned lawyer (Christina Bortolin - who also plays Judith's secretary) and near the end an unforgiving nun (Melanie Reich).  The tale plays out to the inevitable and inexplicable bad end -  just like it did for poor Joseph K in Kafka's book.

There were certainly some terrific comedic moments. I enjoyed the characters of Clem and Biff particularly in the opening scenes in Judith's bedroom. Mrs Voight's transformation from outwardly friendly  supervisor to avaricious competitor was very well done.

But overall what I think was needed in this production was more of a sense of menace on the part of the various persecutors, and more fear, disbelief and sense of unreality on the part of Judith to heighten the absurdity and bring greater contrast to the comedic elements. Otherwise the whole sequence of events seems more ridiculous than threatening.

The set  designed by Scenic Design student Alex Carr was quite intricate with three separate revolves that were well used to facilitated the frequent change of settings. Whether there was a problem with the stage floor or whether the shoes worn by Judith and Mrs. Voight needed some non-slip soles, after a near fall early in the first act, it seemed that both Kerbs and Middleton were walking on eggshells for the rest of the  night. Hopefully that's an easy fix.

I was interested to see how previous productions of this play have been received but in my research I was only able to find mention of a 1989 Canadian Stage Company production done in Toronto, and couldn't locate any reviews on-lne. If anyone knows of other productions I would be interested to  hear about them. I think this is a very challenging work to stage effectively as the various happenings are so bizarre.

Overall this play certainly challenged the student cast; an interesting choice for a season opener. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year brings forth.

For tickets call the box office at 604 822-2678  or book online