By the Boards: Dennis Brown on the STL Theater Scene April 23-26

Apr 23, 2009 at 7:00 am
It's as if the weight of the world has descended on St. Louis theaters.

Wash. U. senior Kaylin Boosalis as Mother Courage - David Kilper/WUSTL Photo Services
David Kilper/WUSTL Photo Services
Wash. U. senior Kaylin Boosalis as Mother Courage
This weekend Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children plays on at Washington University, to be followed next week by BB's The Good Person of Setzuan in an unusual co-production with St. Louis Actors Studio. Amid all this levity, Georg Buchner's Woyzeck (which, despite its many virtues, is hardly a barrel of laughs) continues at Upstream Theater.

Now there is an adaptation of The Trial, Franz Kafka's oblique novel, which was still unfinished when he died in 1924, about the aberrations of justice. The Trial tells the story of Josef K., a presumably innocent citizen, who is charged with an unnamed crime. As his life careens out of control, Josef K. becomes the victim of an anonymous bureaucracy. The stage version that opens this week at Stray Dog Theatre was adapted by Kenneth Albers, a hefty actor (imagine John Goodman's frame without any excess weight), who is as talented as he is hefty. Four years ago in the Rep's Of Mice and Men, Albers gave the evening's beefiest performance in the play's smallest role.

Although Albers' adaptation came about as a direct response to the Bush presidency -- "It was an administration in which up was down, black was white, wrong was right, and Kafka was Elie Weisel," Albers says -- he's been a Kafka fan for more than four decades, ever since he was a student at Illinois Wesleyan University. "I love his twisted, but very cogent, sense of how 'city hall' operates," the actor adds. "I also think, without wanting to sound too strange, that I identify with Josef K.'s utter inability to effect that which surrounds him." Three years ago Albers directed the play's world-premiere production at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; this week's Stray Dog mounting will only be the second staging.

And if the triad of Brecht, Büchner and Kafka sound a little too murky for you, there's always The One-Hour Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Live! Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre's distillation of three movies and 27 characters into 60 minutes. The ten-actor cast includes Robert Mitchell -- no, not the Robert Mitchell of Non-Prophet fame, because that Robert Mitchell is onstage this weekend in Mustard Seed's The Good Times are Killing Me.

If all this sounds too confusing, then the easy out is to just go down to the Fox and see Hairspray -- again -- before it makes its Muny debut in August.