Review: “In the Penal Colony” at The Tank

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Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

In recent years, an increasing trend I’ve noticed in independent theatre is one of artists taking the short stories of legendary writers from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and adapting them for the stage, in the hopes of re-introducing these stories to new generations. Some of these adaptations have generally been more impressive than others. However, In the Penal Colony – based on the short story by Franz Kafka of the same name – certainly stands out, in that goes further than other such works, in terms of how creative they are with the way they depict the story.

The latest creative work to be presented at The Tank, this experimental piece blurs the lines between theatre and dance, in a manner that is highly effective. Written and directed by 2018 Princess Grace Award/Honoraria-winner Miranda Haymon, it is similar to the original short story, in that it is about a small group of character whom are trapped and stranded in an unnamed penal colony. The key difference: There’s also modern themes of race – more specifically, of the objectification of black men in pop culture – that are incorporated, as well.

The choreography of the show is highly sophisticated, and the trio of performers in this piece – Jamar Brathwaite, David Glover, and Dhari Noel – all manage to keep the audience engaged throughout this show, which proves to be equally entertaining and intellectually stimulating. The set and lighting designs of Tekla Monson and Zack Lobel, respectively, also prove to be a key aspect of this show’s quality, as they significantly enhance the visual aesthetic of this performance that keeps audience members watching.

My primary issue with this show is that while I did a bit of reading about it before going, I’m not sure someone who went into the show without first reading what it was about would entirely understand it. However, as long as you know some of the context before going in, it’s easily enjoyable and thought-provoking, and the cast did a very fine job at bringing this performance to the stage. If you’re a fan of shows that blend theatre and dance with themes of race and media objectification, this show will be right up your alley, and I encourage you to check it out, and see for yourself during one of its last performances.

 

“In the Penal Colony” runs at The Tank from September 5th-17th. For more information, please visit www.thetanknyc.org.