The young Manhattan Ensemble Theatre's new adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Castle will feature the return to the stage of a one-time theatre golden boy and the direction of a current golden boy. The veteran is actor William Atherton, who hasn't appeared on a New York stage since 1983. His director will be Scott Schwartz, who piloted the Off-Broadway musicals tick, tick....BOOM! and Bat Boy: The Musical.
The production, once set for an opening Nov. 27, has been rescheduled to begin Jan. 8, 2002 and run through Feb. 17.
Atherton was one of the leading presences of the American stage in the late 60s and early 70s before turning to film. The lean, edgy actor won a Theatre World Award for his Broadway debut in Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards came with his portrayal of the title role in David Wiltse's Suggs in the City, as well as an Obie Award for David Rabe's The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel. Atherton appeared in the original productions of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves (as Artie Shaughnessy's son) and Rich and Famous, and the Broadway staging of Arthur Miller's The American Clock.
By the mid-70s, Atherton has made his mark in movies, starring in Stephen Spielberg's debut "The Sugarland Express" and "The Day of the Locusts." By the '80s, he had transformed into a comic villain in "Ghostbusters" and the "Die Hard" series. He recently starred in a Maine production of Art, directed by Judd Hirsch.
Schwartz established himself as a new talent in the musical theatre this past year by staging two new Off-Broadway musicals, Jonathan Larson's autobiographical tick,tick...BOOM! and the loopy L.A. hit Bat Boy. Explained why he turned to musical comedy man Schwartz to direct a Kafka-inspired drama, MET artistic director David Fishelson said he was looking for a director who could bring out the dark humor in the piece. *
Things will get Kafka-esque at Manhattan Ensemble Theatre this fall. A new English-language adaptation of Frank Kafka's unfinished masterpiece, The Castle, will inaugurate the new Off-Broadway company's first full season. The troupe opened its new Soho space last spring with a dramatization of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot.
The Castle tells the bleak, nightmarish story of a man who continually tries and fails to gain entrance to the castle where he is supposed to report for work. Like the same author's The Trial, it is a grim depiction of the individual's losing struggle for meaning and equilibrium in a world of monolithic institutions and faceless, monstrous bureaucracy.
According to MET, the stage version being employed is by Max Brod, the friend of Kafka and executor of his estate who wisely ignored the novelist's decree that his manuscripts be destroyed after his death. The dramatization, once thought to be lost, was staged by Ingmar Bergman in Sweden in 1953, and in Tel Aviv in 1976. MET claims The Castle has never been produced for the English-speaking stage until now. Petra Lammers and Aaron Leichter rendered the English translation
The MET 2001-02 season, which bears a distinctly European flavor, continues with the March 5-April 14, 2002, presentation of The Golem by H. Leivick. David Fishelson adapted the Yiddish theatre classic from Joseph C. Landis' translation. The final selection on the roster will be Ordet, running April 30-June 9, 2002. The new adaptation of the play by Danish dramatist Kaj Munk is drawn from both Munk's original text and Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1953 screenplay.
The MET space is at 55 Mercer Street in Manhattan. For information call (212) 925-1900.
—By Robert Simonson