The Castle Opens at Manhattan Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 17

News   The Castle Opens at Manhattan Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 17 The Kafka hero played by William Atherton in Manhattan Ensemble Theatre's production of the literary classic The Castle may never get through the door of the title edifice, but that won't stop MET from opening the production named after the novel on Jan. 17. Previews for the show began on Jan. 8.

The Kafka hero played by William Atherton in Manhattan Ensemble Theatre's production of the literary classic The Castle may never get through the door of the title edifice, but that won't stop MET from opening the production named after the novel on Jan. 17. Previews for the show began on Jan. 8.

Joining Atherton in the cast are Judith Malina, Catherine Curtin and Sean McCourt. Scott Schwartz is director. The Off-Broadway production will run through Feb. 17.

Actor Atherton was one of the leading presences of the American stage in the 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.

Actor McCourt was also featured in Titanic, Woody Guthrie's American Song and the solo, The Last Romeo. 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.

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The MET 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 English-language 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.

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The MET 2001-02 season, which bears a distinctly European flavor, continues with The Golem by H. Leivick. David Fishelson adapted the Yiddish theatre classic from Joseph C. Landis' translation. Robert Prosky stars under Lawrence Sacharow's direction. The final selection on the roster will be Ordet. 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