Based on Franz Kafka’s infamous existentialist tale, Judith is a dark comedy about a woman who must prove her innocence after being accused of an unknown crime.
However, the production is far more than an adapted stage version with gender swaps thrown in for novelty’s sake. Though roughly congruent with the plot of Kafka’s text, Judith is a unique adaptation set in 1980s North America, during the ascension of powerful women in the workplace. Judith’s gender is linked to her sense of guilt and innocence.
“What people didn’t really know about The Trial is that Joseph K. [Kafka's original protagonist] is constantly meeting women and seducing them, which I thought was really funny,” said Sally Clark, the author of Judith. She dedicated the original text to UBC and is herself an alumnus.
“But in the 80s, if you transported that and you have a woman doing the same thing, seducing all these men, then it becomes really interesting because our society in the 80s tended to view women as victims, so it would tend to view a woman who seduced a man to get information as being victimized,” she said.
“So I kind of added a whole element to Judith K. in that she is concerned about whether she is in control… or is she in fact a pawn of some greater scheme?”
Tom Scholte, associate professor in the theatre and film department and director of Judith, has worked with Clark on previous occasions. With this production, he has endeavoured to emphasize her unique talents as a playwright: “[Clark is] a very important female Canadian playwright. Many, if not most, of our best playwrights in this country have been women, and we need to keep celebrating and making sure that every generation understands the tradition of really strong women playwrights in this country.”
The feminine aspects of Judith lend themselves readily to the theatre department, the students of which are primarily female. “One of the things we’re responding to is the need to put really strong female roles on our stages,” said Scholte. One of those strong female roles belongs to Jordan Kerbs, who plays the titular Judith.
For Kerbs, Judith represents an opportunity to take the skills she has been taught and apply them directly to the stage. “Judith K. is very much a dream for an actor to play, because we are so engaged the whole entire time,” said Kerbs, a student in the final year of the BFA acting program. “All our emotions, we get to play them all.”
Indeed, Judith promises to be frenetic on both a conceptual and technical level. Scholte, who was challenged by the high pace of Clark’s demanding script, mentioned that “this is probably the most technically lavish production this play’s ever had.”
The complex stage design—itself a thesis project for MFA student Alexander Carr—will complement the intense performance, which promises to be both profoundly funny and disturbing. “Clark has put a very comic spin on Kafka,” added Scholte. “But at the end of the day, it’s still Kafka.”