Dark humor and absurdism rule ‘The Castle’

The  Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium takes on Kafka with "The Castle," part of this year's Fringe Festival.  Credit: Johanna Austin@AustinArt.org
The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium takes on Kafka with “The Castle,” part of this year’s Fringe Festival.
Credit: Johanna Austin@AustinArt.org

Tina Brock is feeling a little frustrated when she answers the phone. With set designer Anna Kiraly off teaching a workshop in Hungary, the co-founder and artistic designer of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium is laboriously trying to capture an ethereal, haunting atmosphere that Kiraly, a skilled painter, could far more easily conjure.

The process could prove useful to the absurdist theater company’s latest production, however. As part of this year’s Fringe Festival, the IRC is producing an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel “The Castle,” a bleak comedy all about frustrated desires. The novel itself was a source of frustration to its legendary author, who left it unfinished — ending mid-sentence — when he died of tuberculosis in 1924.

The story traces the futile and confounding journey of a land surveyor known only as K, who is summoned to a village by officials from an ominously looming castle for reasons he can never quite ascertain. “He keeps coming up against opposition and obstacles and a very strange world that doesn’t make sense to him,” Brock says. “The people in the world seem to understand it very well, but it has that surreal quality where you come into a situation that definitely has a structure but you don’t know what it is. K wants one simple thing, but he can’t seem to communicate what he needs from a spiritual or a language perspective, and he just continues on and falls apart psychologically and physically.”

Typical of Kafka, the novel is marked by a distinct lack of hope or comprehension of one’s fate, but also contains a remarkable amount of (admittedly dark) humor. “I find it hilarious,” says Brock, who cites influences including “Fawlty Towers,” Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and the Lemony Snicket books for her own approach to the material.

“There’s something really funny to me about a continued, repetitive attack on a single-minded goal. There’s something inherently funny about that to me. A lot of absurdist work can be very precious about making a large statement and sags under its own weight. But the weight is already in the play, in the writing, the style, the magnitude of issues that you’re dealing with. So it helps to have a sense of humor.”

‘The Castle’
Sept. 3-22
Second Stage at The Adrienne Theater
2030 Sansom St.
$15-$25, 215-285-0472
www.fringearts.com


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