Monday, June 26, 2017

Stagger Lee was one kind of legendary rascal, Jared Kushner is another

2017 Early Music Festival caps its opening weekend with music of three faiths from medieval Spain

Conspicuous signs of past tolerance in one place across the three Abrahamic religions are eagerly cultivated in today's cultural climate. Many people look for models of this kind of thing, rare though they may be.

Another configuration of the Peabody Consort, with director Mark Cudek playing a hand drum.
Without becoming overtly political about it, the Peabody Consort put together a program focusing on the example of King Alfonso X of Castile, known as "El Sabio" (the Wise) in large part for his cultural magnanimity. 

In the latter half of Moorish settlement in the Iberian peninsula, Alfonso reigned from 1242 to 1284. His court assembled "Cantigas de Santa Maria," a large anthology of songs to the Virgin Mary. The king also promoted scholarship in Toledo to explore and preserve the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cultural heritage represented among his subjects.

Selections from the cantigas were the linchpin of the Peabody Consort's concert for the Early Music Festival. Both the musicians and the organization are directed by Mark Cudek, who participated mostly on several percussion instruments. His colleagues were Brian Kay, oud, and Niccolo Seligmann, vielle, playing relatives of the lute and the fiddle, respectively, and a notably stylish and expressive soprano, Julie Bosworth. 

Guest artist Daphna Mor filled out the ensemble on recorders and ney, an end-blown Middle Eastern flute played at an angle. Kay and Mor also sang one piece each: Kay's performance of a nostalgic Arab song, "Nassam Alayna el-Hawa," was a concert highlight, as was Mor's vocal solo in a Jewish holy song of praise, "Tsur Mishelo."

The chiaroscuro effect of vocal and instrumental music gave extra color to the carefully organized program. The cantigas segment showed some of this music's range, with Steven Rickards' Echoing Air Vocal Ensemble supporting Bosworth in the refrains. 

Their pure, floating vocal timbre as a group perfectly complemented the soloist's more penetrating lyrical agility, exquisitely phrased. Her mastery of the intricate lines in "Cristo e nato" by Laudario di Cortona and the challenging range of the Arabic love song "Mwashsha" were just two demonstrations of her integral value to Peabody Consort music-making.

Cudek arranged for three local readers to put music from each religious tradition in context and then read relevant prose or poetry. The Rev. Robert A. Schilling read Gonzalo de Berceo's comical, didactic parable of "The Inebriated Monk"; Michael Toulouse read a rapturous poem full of sensuous detail by the Muhyi al-din Muhammad ibn Ali ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240); Cantor Judy Meyersberg enthralled the Indiana History Center audience with the ecstatic spirituality of "The Soul," by Moshe ibn Ezra, who died about 1138.

The program featured many opportunities to appreciate the control and flair of their instruments by Kay, Seligmann, and Mor.  The finale, an exuberant narrative hailing the birth of Abraham from the Jewish perspective, soared in the refrains — joined by everyone onstage plus some members of the audience. The first half had ended with similar exultation in a ballad, with oud, vielle, and recorder solos tucked in, of St. Basil's resistance to  threats by the Roman emperor known as Julian the Apostate. 

Apostasy comes in for divine retribution in all three faiths covered in this program. I wouldn't doubt that everywhere you look, you can find common themes in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but rarely outlined as entertainingly as in this concert.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

BOBDIREX production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame": Ringing the changes on diversity and acceptance in medieval Paris

However adept the Disney organization has proved over decades of storytelling, sometimes the moral clarity of the result,
Jacob Butler lends overwhelming pathos to the title role.
particularly in the animated, full-length features, can be too glaring. Yet dividing the world into good people and bad people is seductive when we tell stories, as we keep discovering in the "good-guy-with-a-gun" simplifications of today's raging Second Amendment debate.

Adapted for the stage with real people in the roles, as BOBDIREX is now doing in its annual production at Marian University, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" preserves the broad, heavily outlined representation of the Disney film characters: The bell-ringer, marginalized and mocked because of birth deformities, learns courage; the intrepid "queen" of medieval Paris' despised gypsies who helps nurture his feelings of worth even as she gains his trust by opposing his protector, a corrupt and concupiscent representative of both the law and the church.

These three characters are all sturdily portrayed in the second-night performance I saw Saturday night. Jacob Butler is outstanding as the hunchback Quasimodo, brought up in cathedral isolation and shedding his submissiveness with difficulty to assert his full humanity in song and dramatic stature. Bill Book is his protector and nemesis Frollo, the archdeacon of the Notre Dame cathedral, driven by a need to control that turns sociopathic. Shelbi Berry plays Esmeralda, prize trickster and entertainer of the furtive gypsy population, blending pixieish charm and a ferocious drive toward justice and dignity.
Esmeralda wows the crowd at the Feast of Fools.

Director Bob Harbin seems always to get powerful actor-singers in the main roles. But he is also Indianapolis theater's Cecil B. DeMille, with touches of Robert Altman. He has a history of getting large casts, solidly accompanied, to put across shows with swirling coordination and a degree of commitment that approaches spontaneity in effect, even though it has been carefully prepared. With choral oomph applied to some of the show's music by conductor Trevor Fanning's facility at developing choruses (he's on the faculty at Cathedral High School), the atmosphere of the medieval church flourishes on a plausible fantasy level.

The flexible, idiomatic, to-the-point songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz help hold the narrative together. The pit band displayed both heft and subtlety. The production's amplification was a little overpowering in the full-voice ensemble numbers, but otherwise both spoken dialogue and songs for soloists and small groups came through well. With essential assistance from the costumes, the choreography (Stuart Coleman) particularly in the Feast of Fools revelry early in the first act, brims with razzle-dazzle and a well-managed intricacy that suits the ensemble's range of body types.

Clerical errors: Frollo seeks divine help in a dubious cause.
Among those appearing in supporting roles to particularly strong effect was  Keith Potts as Clopin, master of the revels, gypsy honcho, and the story's most prominent narrator. You felt you were always in good story-telling hands with Potts' Clopin leading the way. Logan Moore plays the stalwart army captain Phoebus, who, believably entranced by Esmeralda, is gradually won over to the small, undeterred opposition to Frollo. His tenderness about the wound he had suffered in a second-act fight was inconsistent, however. Heroism, once it clings to a character, seems to rise above all hurts, I guess.

The Gargoyles, those decorative cathedral sculptures of grotesque mien, function according to Disneyan whimsy as prodding friends of Quasimodo, who alone is able to talk with them and see them as animate beings. With adept costuming simulating their stony bodies, these amusing companions at the cathedral's summit received lusty, droll portrayals by Curtis Peters, Matt Rohrer, and April Armstrong-Thomas.

Some of the fantasy elements the story requires work well in this production without elaborate technology: the flash and burst of brief fire indicates that gypsy sorcery has been applied where needed. The staging of (spoiler alert!) Frollo's dispatch off the Notre Dame roof was managed well without advanced gimmickry; on the other hand, Quasimodo's rescue of the condemned Esmeralda was a little too understated and low-key, given the flashiness of the production as the whole — you had to imagine why Quasimodo really needed that bell-rope.

Though the story leans toward simplified problems and solutions, it's enthralling every step of the way. When it comes to emotional nuance, I found the scenes in which Esmeralda and Frollo confront each other electrifying. There are dark sides to both characters (not just the archdeacon) as well as humanity (not just the gypsy). Book and Berry were equal to offering characterizations as rounded  as the script allows. So many of the griefs other people harbor are hidden in our interactions with them; Frollo and Esmeralda come face-to-face with the grief behind each other's bristling facade.

In a Franz Kafka letter I happened to read just before attending "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," he writes: "...if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you [my griefs,] what more would you know about me than you know about hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful. For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to hell." This arresting sentiment is oddly embodied  in Esmeralda's canniness, compassion and instinct for self-preservation, set against Frollo's studied uprightness (at war with his lust) and mania for control. These qualities crackled in the performances of Berry and Book.

Both Esmeralda and Frollo stand before the hell in the other person, a hell that's more "hot and dreadful" in the archdeacon than in the gypsy. Only one of them can be the salvation of the hunchback, and it has to be the one for whom hell is kept more at bay. Some happy endings are not as clear-cut as Disney storytelling would like them to be. Even so, Quasimodo retains more of a vision of heaven at the end, thanks to the moral imbalance between Esmeralda and Frollo. The positions of all three with respect to one another are superbly realized in this intense, full-hearted production.

[Photos by Zach Rosing]

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cincinnati Opera's 'Frida': Artist who represents much to so many wanted only to represent herself truly

Outstanding portrayal: Catalina Cuervo as Frida.
In a pre-performance talk about his opera "Frida" Friday night in Cincinnati, Robert Xavier Rodriguez identified the appeal of his subject across a spectrum that doesn't necessarily include opera buffs: the feminist, visual arts, LGBT, leftist, Latino (specifically Mexican), and disabled communities all claim a piece of the Frida Kahlo phenomenon.

Rodriguez's 1991 musical survey of the artist's life (1907-1954) transcends these pigeonholes, fortunately, even while it benefits from association with them. Importing a Michigan Opera Theatre production to the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center, Cincinnati Opera displayed this transcendence mainly in the performance of Catalina Cuervo in the title role. Whenever you can make a deeply flawed character lovable onstage, you've achieved something special.

Cuervo displayed a strong voice in all registers, leaning with special vividness toward her lower range. She was steadily thrilling as she sang, but she also mastered the dramatic requirements in her spoken voice and folded both kinds of vocalism into a full-size charisma. She was complemented in her portrayal by the larger-than-life performance of baritone Ricardo Herrera as Diego Rivera, thus presenting a double portrait of the 20th century's most fascinating couple in the arts. Who can compare? F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were sozzled suburbanites in comparison, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner victims in different ways of ruthless art ideology and marketing.

 Diego Rivera (Ricardo Herrera)  holds forth
Rivera remains the artist of broader genius, which "Frida" commendably acknowledges. But she never settled into a role as "Mrs. Rivera," even from the time she first set her sights on the already famous master. Separating herself from her dutiful peers early as a schoolgirl, in one of the opera's many clearly drawn scenes, Frida Kahlo overcame both the handicap of polio and  horrifying injuries in a bus-tram collision to wring art out of both her extraordinary intelligence and the richness of her emotional and sensuous life. Intimate connection with Mexico's most celebrated artist was a cornerstone of her hard-won progress.

Frida's striking imagery — so much narrower and more personal than Rivera's in large part — is tellingly communicated in the hypnotically compelling stage picture (Monika Essen's design). The tangle of dead tree branches, the anatomical detail of breasts and heart, the monkeys, a giant moth, and a large weeping eye dominate the set in perfect balance.

Conceived in two acts encompassing 13 scenes, "Frida" inevitably has aspects of "A Beginner's Guide to Frida Kahlo," which may tempt some in attendance to wonder if they are witnessing a stage version of a PBS documentary. Rodriguez's roiling music and its embrace of so many styles, from opera to Broadway, from folk music to cabaret, are part of the reason "Frida" escapes such limitations.

In addition to a harvest of blatant ensemble verve, the small orchestra, conducted smartly by Andres Cladera, delivers bouquets of piquant solos, with instrumentation tweaked toward the vernacular with the inclusion of prominent parts for Spanish guitar and accordion.

The quality of the performances, mainly Cuervo's, completes the assurance that we are not just witnessing a lively checklist of Kahlo episodes: Her radicalism, her health challenges, her liaison with Rivera, the couple's contrasting responses to Rivera's American opportunities, the infidelity on both sides, involvement on entirely different footings with the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and the American film star/art collector Edward G. Robinson. Jose Maria Condemi's fluent stage direction is largely responsible for knitting the narrative together.

Masked dancers, calaveras stylized after Day of the Dead traditions, open the show and are later vital components of Frida's post-accident aria, "Death dances around my body at night." Frida remains heroically resistant to allowing her near-constant pain and visions of death to limit her ambition or energy, much of it sexual as well as artistic.

Diego (third from left) succumbs to the allure of New York as his wife resists it.
There are strong anthemic renditions of folk-like ensemble songs, notably "Viva Zapata" early in the opera, suggesting the challenge to Rivera's position on the Mexican left that prompted him to work abroad. Satirical numbers also pop up in the explicit manner of Broadway, such as the breezy self-involvement of the New York beau monde, capped by advice the show's Rockefeller gives to the artist: "Let your art tell the people what we want them to think."

Frida's pushback against this directive is more explicit than her husband's. She wears a lavishly colorful traditional dress and headpiece to a formal party and parries socialite comments snarkily. Diego's subtler resistance involves his inclusion of a portrait of Lenin in an expansive mural painting commissioned for Rockefeller Center that was canceled unfinished. (Though his objecting benefactor is not explicitly identified in "Frida," it was future New York governor and U.S. vice president Nelson Rockefeller.)

Worth noting about Friday's performance in addition to the starring couple is the excellence of Benjamin Lee as Alejandro, Frida's first lover, and the poignantly isolated and libidinously needy Trotsky, and Reilly Nelson as Lupe Marin, Rivera's  peppery, sensual and eventually discarded second wife as he solemnizes his soul-mate attraction to Frida in effervescent nuptials.

Whatever the decline in mutual commitment that was to come subsequently, this potpourri of musical-stage richness makes it unmistakably clear that Diego and Frida were perpetually meant for each other — in their tumultuous world and the one beyond. "Frida" memorializes handsomely a unique contribution to modern world art. So let Kahlo be iconic to various communities; she resists compartmentalization. Her overall significance goes well past any such sorting out. This opera is ample testament to that.

[Photos by Philip Groshong]

Friday, June 23, 2017

'The Golem of Havana': The imagination and moral choice confront national crisis

Reminders that art is not just a leisure activity or an outlet for self-expression are always welcome. With stunning effect, "The Golem of Havana" delivers an assertion that art may be crucial to survival — both physical and aspirational.
Rebecca reads from her booklet to the distracted Maria.

Rebecca, born in Havana to Jewish parents who escaped the Holocaust, is a young teen caught up in her artistic imagination applying the folkloric figure of the golem to superhero adventures. The graphic novel she's created represents the concrete expression of her adaptation, but the spiritual resonance of the golem for her becomes all-important in the Phoenix Theatre's production of a musical set in 1958 Cuba.

The 24th of July Revolution is about to sweep away the old order just as Pinchas Frankel, a tailor forced to flee wartime Hungary with his wife, Yutka, is poised to establish his own shop. Their lives are complicated unforeseeably by the involvement of their maid Maria's son, Teo, in the revolutionary cause. Rebecca's idealism about life and art inevitably draws her to the young fighter on the run, and the family is sucked  into a national maelstrom.

With a book by Michel Hausmann and music and lyrics by Salomon Lerner and Len Schif, "The Golem of Havana" offers a cohesive view of history's grip on questions of personal and family success. Directed by Bryan Fonseca, the cast smoothly melds ensemble and individual songs and dialogue to tell the story. Rebecca's golem is represented as a hulking, humanlike figure, traditionally conceived of as made out of clay or earth, that pops up from time to time in projections (by Izzy Rae Brown) of the girl's drawings. It focuses Rebecca's belief outside traditional religion that a protective spirit can be appealed to and may solve real-world problems.

The bromance of Pinchas and Arturo proves to be fragile.
The golem's success in this show is decidedly mixed, just as the benefits and evils of the Fulgencio Batista regime were followed by the benefits and evils of Fidel Castro's victory. The effects of that earth-shaking change have been a major Western Hemisphere preoccupation of the United States since 1959. Moral clarity in the show goes up to the point of reinforcing family unity and the virtue of courage, but not much further.

The songs are supported in this show by a five-piece band placed above and behind the set. Bernie Killian has created a simple, evocative set, with a Cuban-tile patterned floor backed by a row of Romanesque arches to form an arcade, which is a secondary playing space, along with an area representing a back room in the Frankel apartment. The accompaniment was varied, colorful, and often brash. Well-projected as it was, it occasionally covered the singers; spoken cues were sometimes audible on opening night. Laura Glover's lighting was eloquent in rendering both sunshine and shadow, the reality that glares and the reality shrouded in mystery.

Accepting a cigar from a dictator has consequences.
The girlish charm that Lydia Burke brought to the role of Rebecca was consistently appealing. I kept wrestling with the notion that she looked a little too old for the part. This may have to do with a nagging hunch I had that the show's creators thought of Rebecca as a reincarnation of Anne Frank. There was the same awakening toward maturity, a warm sympathy for humanity, an unquenchable idealism — and a need to record it all. The Frank family's years of hiding in Amsterdam spanned their diarist daughter's ages of 13 to 15; late adolescence is a different world. The similarity of last names reinforced my impression, with another name chiming in: that of Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of "Man's Search for Meaning." If there's anything dominating Rebecca's character and artistic obsessions, it's her search for meaning.

The wounded Teo ponders his next step.
But in a world where middle-aged actresses can believably (sometimes) play Shakespeare's Juliet, I must set these minor misgivings aside. Burke owned the role: Her singing tugged at the heartstrings, and she seemed to understand the character as resting on a fulcrum with naivete on one side, indomitability on the other.

One of the strongest  numbers in the show was a trio for Rebecca, her father Pinchas, and Maria. Eric J. Olson's Pinchas and Teneh B.C. Karimu's Maria were also consistently well-sung and played insightfully. Olson conveyed the tailor's perseverance  and trusting nature sympathetically. His duets with his Cuban friend Arturo (an exuberant Carlos Medina Maldonado) were among the show's other musical highlights.

Karimu registered the pain of Maria's constant anxiety about the well-being of her son, off fighting in the Sierra Maestra range and in constant danger. Her address to the gods of her heritage, drawn out because of her rapport with the questing Rebecca, had the ring of authenticity about it. That cultural foundation was echoed and completed by her son Teo in a scene with Rebecca. Ray Hutchins plays Teo with the kind of bitter resolve out of which revolutionaries are made (and which enables them to accept its atrocities). Teo's honoring of his mother's faith is a pro forma matter, but Hutchins put it across as part of the young soldier's essential connection to his people.

As Yutka, an even more conflicted character, Lori Ecker had the right haunted quality; the circumstances of her sister's loss to the Nazi takeover of Hungary weigh on her. The character is complex in ways that the show's creators draw out in an unsettlingly shorthand way, but Ecker made sense of it all.

Paul Nicely should also be mentioned for his suave, subtly menacing performance as Batista. Pinchas rises surely enough, thanks to Arturo, to get the assignment of fitting the dictator for a new suit. Their scene together had a finely strained camaraderie to it Thursday.

Pinchas' ascent to a high-status opportunity on the eve of the regime's collapse symbolizes the mixed blessings the golem of Havana bestows. It's a figure enlivened by Rebecca's devotion and artistic skill, but off the page never subject to her control. Her fashioning of this god of the household in both images and narrative is achievement enough. That's what art does, and it's no small thing.

[Photos by Ed Stewart]

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"The Trial": Franz Kafka's incomplete novel is nicely rounded off by Philip Glass's music in Opera Theatre of St. Louis production

The Philip Glass compositional procedure — which he concisely sums up as "music
Joseph K.'s upended world in "The Trial" pauses for a portrait.
of repetitive structures" — seems a natural fit for the worldview of Franz Kafka. The short-lived Jewish citizen of Prague, who wrote in German, defined the cryptic, justice-challenged dilemmas of modern life for the 20th century in fiction with the force and mystery of parables.

Glass felt he should someday write an opera based on "The Trial" shortly after first reading it 60 years ago. The Opera Theatre of St. Louis production, an American premiere, confirms that affinity. The naturalness, the "everydayness," of Glass's music — its buoyancy, its dogged continuity, its jog-trot tempos, its textural variety — suit Kafka, with one big difference: "The story is so dark that you can't tell it that way," Glass is quoted as saying in the June issue of St. Louis Magazine. "It has to be burlesqued."

The original, private readers of "The Trial" are said to have found it hilarious. Glass and his librettist, Christopher Hampton, plumbed the story's depth and pulled the mockery to the surface, originally on a four-company commission that premiered in 2014. The OTSL production, directed by Michael McCarthy, picks up and amplifies that interpretation expertly.

The score is a soundtrack, a tapestry lying behind the isolation of Joseph K., the assistant manager at a bank, from everything he took for granted in his life, down to the landlady who always brought him his breakfast. The performance I saw Saturday night, suavely conducted by Carolyn Kwan, had to deal with some absences in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra that layered unscripted absurdity upon the intended kind: The most evident substitution had repetiteur Adam Nielsen at the piano laying down the work's opening pattern instead of the score's cello. But the coordination with the stage was so acute, and the work of the replacement musicians so creditable, that no sign of anything amiss came across to the audience. 

The ability of this "Trial" to rise above any sudden difficulties was centered on the performance of Theo Hoffman as Joseph K. We anticipate that the solidly placed citizen of an unnamed city is about to experience disruption when we first see him flopping briefly and spasmodically toward wakefulness at daybreak. We guess, correctly, that Hoffman is going to embody Kafka's hapless hero down to his fingertips. And yet he is also Everyman. A lot of us wake up this way, after all: a few twitches, a thrusting out of arms and legs from beneath the covers, the head raised jerkily, the eyes blinking into alertness.

Joseph K. in his nightshirt tries to deal with two arresting officers.
Hoffman connects this initial impression so smoothly to the anxiety that is about to engulf Joseph K. that we are uncomfortably and unswervingly sympathetic to him. It starts with his first shock of the day: his arrest by two stout minor court officers, inspired in this production perhaps by Mack Sennett comedies, complete with handlebar mustaches and risible officiousness. (Other characters later appear in phony beards out of the silent-film era.) We remain caught up in Hoffman's brilliant portrait of a bright fellow, comfortable with who he is and at first suspecting a co-workers' joke, thrown into totally murky circumstances. 

He moves with hyperactive, ineffectual curiosity, becoming acquainted with the apparent ubiquity of a justice system that has trapped and confounded him. And so he remains until his final swift demise at the system's functionaries. Just before that, after asking himself a series of sensible questions, in the novel Joseph K. concludes: "Logic is doubtless unshakable, but it cannot withstand a man who wants to go on living."  Hoffman was that man, finding the emotional core of the piece throughout. He  displayed a well-projected, scrupulously phrased baritone that never wavered among all Joseph K.'s adventures. The will to live is absolute; only his logic fails him.

The hero at every turn encounters people who know more than he does, or at least want to give him that impression. The droll fellows who arrest him are played and sung with fizz by Joshua Blue and Robert Mellon. They are typical of the rest of the cast in also being required to take on other roles: Mellon presents with stunning finality the absurdity of K.'s situation as the Priest in the opera's climactic cathedral scene. And Blue is a bundle of feckless energy as the groveling businessman Block.

 A femme fatale on his lap leaves Joseph K. still clueless.
As in dreams, people whom Joseph K. recognizes in one context have to be accepted as looking eerily just like someone else encountered in another. These singers were unfailing in carrying out the chameleon changes on and around Simon Banham's bland yet imposing set. It's basically a large squeezed diamond shape center stage, backed by a gray wall with hidden openings through which both crucial and trivial vignettes play from time to time. 

Sofia Selowsky and Susannah Biller are the cast's two women, occasionally called upon to represent erotic distractions to the hero as well as the objects of other men's lechery. They are also a landlady and a neighbor, respectively, and as such have no siren function to perform (though Joseph briefly misinterprets the neighbor's interest). They are simply fixtures in the hero's normal life who have somehow become inscrutable as he sinks further into the dilatory but crushing claws of the system.

Also well-suited to flesh out the fullness of K.'s plight was Matthew Lau (performing with a freshly injured shoulder on Saturday night) as both the Inspector who informs the hero of his legal difficulty and K.'s Uncle Albert, the type of nattering, censorious relative who functions in this story somewhat like the biblical Job's "miserable comforters."

Keith Phares was responsible for much of the performance's persistent comedy as the lawyer Huld, self-important and indulging in semi-invalidism. Brenton Ryan was notably animated as a mad-artist caricature, the painter Titorelli, mysteriously well-connected with the legal system but, of course, absolutely unhelpful to Joseph K.

In short, "The Trial" amounts to a concise and vivid musical representation of Kafka's enigmatic book. The puzzlement remains, but in this guise also amuses in all its dark effervescence. K.'s bafflement becomes ours, though the panache of Glass's music allows us to keep enough emotional distance to position comedy above dread. While honoring Kafka's uncanny prophetic spirit as embodied by OTSL, we cling to the hope we also can keep real-world distance from such a plight as Joseph K.'s.

[Photos by Ken Howard]