Performed at the Theatre Passe Muraille, The Trial of Judith K by Thought for Food Productions feels a lot like watching the Red Queen’s court form Alice in Wonderland – utter madness. However, unlike the Red Queen's court, which is limited to a small portion of the plotline, the play drags on for 95 minutes. Loosely based on the unfinished novel The Trial, by Franz Kafka, this production also feels somewhat incomplete and void of direction. Trying to comprehend the play is like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle with only half of the pieces. It is a challenge to grasp and accept the bizarreness, even for absurdist play.
Nevertheless, the themes do have the potential to provide a social critique on a crooked justice system. In a world riddled with violence against women and a volatile workspace filled with gossiping co-workers, the topics become garbled together and the audience is left questioning the conclusion.
Apart from Judith K (Stephanie Belding), each of the cast members play at least three separate characters. Luckily for the audience, the costumes are distinct, but the sheer amount of characters is slightly confusing and tricky to keep track of.
One morning, Judith K wakes up to find two strange men, Clem (Scott McCulloch) and Biff (Andrew Knowlton), dressed in coveralls and eating breakfast in her room. The duo informs Judith that she is to be arrested for a crime that she has apparently committed, however no one on stage knows what the crime is. This is a key piece of information that is never revealed in the play.
Judith brushes off the morning’s events as a practical joke, and from that point on she soldiers through the ordeal by denying the absurdity. Judith does not doubt her innocence and she never gives the audience a reason to doubt it either. After all, she appears to be the only reasonable character pinned to a crime well beneath her.
Judith encounters many strange individuals as she tries to navigate her way through her trial. As the audience, we are also introduced to a plethora of oddball characters. Judith meets her “missing” landlady (Toni Ellwand, who also plays Mrs. Voight, Judith's vindictive co-worker), a sickly hooker-turned-lawyer (Helen Juvonen, who also plays Judith's mousey secretary) and a dumpy sister-in-law (Cara Pantalone) with her obnoxious SNL-worthy children. Judith also becomes romantically involved with a violent sidewalk sweeper (Patrick Howarth), who like most of the other characters, further complicates the overly convoluted script.
While most productions utilize Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace balcony, the action scene in the upper wing of the theatre could have been amplified and further explored. These scenes seem a little more ridiculous than terrifying despite the horrific nature of the violence. All of the characters are hyper-animated and mildly entertaining, but still too aggravating to watch.
Throughout the play Judith is told that she “should have played more attention” and that everything involving her case is “common knowledge.” She responds to such madness with nervous laughter and strong pep-talk asides, where she desperately tries to rationalize the irrational.
David Poholko’s set design deserves recognition with the smart posts that are moved and rotated frequently to change the setting in seconds. However, it would have been nice to have had more absurd music and sound effects throughout the play so that the audience could have discerned any sort of high-tension moment from a regular, but still ludicrous scene.
This is a difficult show to pull off. While the acting is strong, the focus is weak.
The Trial of Judith K plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) until Feb. 4. For more information visit http://thought4food.ca/.