The Theatre de la Jeune Lune takes a stylish, smooth ride across “Amerika’

by Tatum Fjerstad

The Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s newest production again proves why it received the 2005 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.

“Amerika, or The Disappearance” opened in Cambridge, Mass., in June. Now the theaters have joined efforts and are performing the production in Minneapolis.

Sixty years after the publication of his unfinished fantasy novel about the New World, Franz Kafka’s work has been translated into a play by Gideon Lester of the American Repertory Theatre and Dominique Serrand of Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

In the novel and the play, a young German man named Karl Rossman travels from his home country to America to escape a moral indiscretion with a seductive maid.

But as the spelling indicates, this Amerika isn’t the America we are used to. A bridge connects Boston to New York and the Statue of Liberty holds a sword.

Karl, played magnificently by Nathan Keepers, travels Amerika, seeing different places and meeting different people along the way, all in hopes of finding a job and a way to fit in.

“I’m just trying to be in Amerika,” Karl says.

Karl begins the play in a bright-blue suit and an attitude as open and vast as the bright-blue sky. But as his journey continues and spirals downward, he’s stripped of those clothes and joins the rest of the cast in grays and browns.

“Every man for himself, that’s how this country works,” Karl says.

Rossman meets the whole gamut ” fast women and their cowboy fathers, Irish and French vagabonds, kind Samaritans, beautiful well-meaning women and others still. Each character is just as developed as the next.

“Work and work then lay down and die just like real Amerikans do,” Karl says.

The simple set with neutral colors and revolving doors opening to new, more complex sets plays as a screen for projected video and messages that serve as the narration.

The entire production is smooth and communicates clearly and subtly the certain ironies and frank facts of Kafka and his novel.

Q&A with an actor and University professor

Luverne Seifert, a University professor and head of the Bachelor of Arts portion of the theater performance program, acts in the play. Here he talks to A&E about character development, auditions and juggling his many roles.

How are you involved with Theatre de la Jeune Lune?

I’m a freelance actor. I do various projects with Jeune Lune if they happen to have a project that they are willing to involve me in.

Did you audition for this role or get asked to be a part of the production?

Dominique called me last summer and told me he had a role he wanted me to play. We have a fabulous relationship where I don’t necessarily have to audition. They know what I do, my physicality. When you begin to establish the kind of work that you do, it’s easier for theater companies to call you to ask to audition or play certain roles.

Tell me a little about your role and the challenges you’ve faced developing your characters.

I play three different roles. There were obvious challenges in my role as a German interpreter as I needed to learn German. I also play an Irish sketchy character who is out on the road. He is a vagabond, a somewhat dangerous character. I needed to learn an Irish accent. My other character has a southern accent.

It is interesting, complicated and difficult to find different accents for the roles.

The show had already previously been done in Boston with the American Repertory Theatre, so there were people that had already played those characters. I watched the videotape to understand how they functioned. Then I needed to take that information and create my own characters.

What does your character try to communicate to the audience?

Kafta had never been to America before; he wrote the book historically. My characters are a part of this travel. All three characters resemble a part of America and affect the journey of an immigrant not accepted in this culture, who is ultimately trying to survive.

Rehearsals started in December. Do you often teach and perform, and do you find that hard to juggle?

It’s extremely difficult. Plus I have two children at home. It’s time-consuming and exhausting. But it is so important to me. I am living the craft. I am out there performing, when I am most alive as a teacher is when I have the opportunity to be in a performance and acting myself. It’s a gorgeous complement to be doing both, and I believe it is essential.