Time in Kafka at Undermain Theater

Quick! What do you get when you mix equal parts pre-WW1 Italian naturopathic sanatorium, a delusional American professor, his long-suffering wife, a gypsy card-reader, the quack naturopath, a tuberculin waif, an old general in a wheelchair, a hustler and his nympho moll, the clinic desk clerk and matron, and an Italian gigolo?

Why, Time in Kafka is what you get - Len Jenkin’s new play having its month-long World Premiere run at Deep Ellum’s Undermain Theater.

Directed by Undermain’s artistic director Katherine Owens, Time in Kafka is a madcap and energetic romp through the professor’s hallucinatory fantasy about recovering a heretofore-undiscovered manuscript written and left behind by Kafka during his sanatorium stay 90 years before.

At times Laugh-In, at times the Ryman Auditorium, and at times a Mel Brooks movie, Jenkins has written a vehicle for eleven equally matched actors and Undermain’s actors rise to the challenge.  Despite being set in Italy, most of the characters sport bad German accents throughout the show, adding to the fun.  Oh, yeah, there is singing and dancing (“Healing Dance Number 78!”) too – in fact, the only thing this show doesn’t have is a dozen monkeys running around with video cameras on their heads.

The audience at the preview show I attended laughed heartily and loudly throughout the show.  It’s That Funny.  Picture Cloris Leachman’s character in Young Frankenstein in a spotlight singing “Help Me Make It Through the Night” in a husky alto while the rest of the cast waltzes behind her.  The wine-drinking ladies sitting next to me guffawed until they snorted.

The costumes are period and play to type.  The set is a dizzying conglomeration of antique-store finds on wheels.  What anchors the set are a bunch of moveable curtained panels like you’d find providing a little privacy on a hospital ward in 1913.

The device allows us to travel on a train, go outdoors to the pier, eat in the dining room, lounge in the sunroom and more – all without leaving our seats.

Lighting designer Steve Woods brilliantly manages projected images of the sights outside a moving train window, the lake, metaphorical time images, a chandelier and more.  There are flashlights, spots, candles, stage lights and strings of patio lights too.

The 90-minute (no intermission) play runs February 18 – March 17, 2012.  Highly recommended!