You’re walking downtown on your way to class when a panhandler starts telling you some weird story you don’t want to listen to. So you walk away, just as another panhandler starts gets up in your face trying to sell you some lousy hemp necklace.
Take your medicine
You’re walking downtown on your way to class when a panhandler starts telling you some weird story you don’t want to listen to. So you walk away, just as another panhandler starts gets up in your face trying to sell you some lousy hemp necklace. Then he starts talking and it’s the same story as the panhandler you just walked away from.
This happens three more times. These weird coincidences start to freak you out, so you decide to hop on a bus the rest of the way to campus. The driver starts yakking about the same story, so you get off the bus and take a cab and the radio says a bunch of weird stuff. Then you get freaked out because that driver starts telling the same story. You finally get to class and your professor starts telling the story where the cabbie left off. Suddenly, this weird suicidal girl shows up with a giant open wound with worms coming out of it. Then a group of wheezing people shows up chanting, and they pick up your professor and take off all his clothes. He starts talking about religion while crowd surfing, naked.
All this is to say, if watching a bunch of strangers tell a bizarre story with the occasional profound insight and Playboy read-aloud is your cup of tea, defunkt theatre’s production of Len Jenkins’s A Country Doctor is just the play you’re looking for. Based on the Kafka short story of the same title, this play’s nonlinear structure and narrative ambiguity provides the perfect canvas for the very Kafkaesque lessons of this play. First, people are crazy and obnoxious and you never know what kind of weird shit they want to talk your ear off about, and second, if you’re not crazy, life can get awfully strange and lonely.
The play follows a woman on her way to attend a wedding. A chorus of undeveloped side characters, including a hitchhiking conman, conspires to narrate Kafka’s tale of the country doctor to the unsuspecting woman as she goes about her daily business, which includes a visit to a doctor (possibly the same “country doctor” featured in the substory, although this is never established). The constant shift of narrative focus from the wedding guest to the country doctor subplot is difficult to follow, and made more confusing by the fact that nearly every player in the cast assumes the role of the country doctor at some point during the play.
Narrative shortcomings aside, the play has merit as a theatrical experience. Obvious budgetary constraints provide ample room for the company’s creativity and thrift to take center stage, with hand puppets serving as a team of creepy, possibly supernatural horses, and a tricycle taking the place of a carriage. These moments are the most charming and memorable of the show.
Overall, the play succeeds in evoking the uncertain, dark atmosphere that Kafka is renowned for. For the casual theatergoer, though, this play will prove frustrating. Paradoxically, the very things that make this play so effective—its density and its simultaneous, abstract storylines—also make it nearly impossible to follow, depriving the audience of any semblance of closure.