Kafka, of course, is a genre now, just as “experimental” refers to a very specific style instead of an attempt at creating something new. David Lynch has become an adjective as well, so that his aesthetic of sugary pop music and violent imagery can now be mass produced, like Hello Kitty. Judgment on a Gray Beach, then, is best described as an experimental/Kafka/David Lynch/Holocaust play. This means, among other things, that it will feature a Nazi cockroach in drag (Alexis Rivero) singing “Lili Marleen.”
The play is described as a “dream preceding Joseph K’s awakening at the beginning of Kafka’s The Trial,” and it is a prophetic dream indeed, for “K” (Daniel Damuzi) predicts not only his own imprisonment but Auschwitz, too. For seventy-five mostly wordless, entirely impressionistic minutes, we watch automaton-like creatures (who wear both armbands and concentration camp numbers) engage in a variety of activities: one woman (Ale Fips) saws at a hunk of meat like a violin, another (Marilia Colturato) wheels around a stroller piled with dismembered dolls, and a third (Daniela Mandoki) speak-sings “What a Wonderful World” in an Eastern European accent while the rest of the cast points machine guns at the audience.
The Holocaust has been used and abused by artists and politicians for decades, and after The Night Porter, Schindler’s List, and PETA, it is virtually impossible to recover the power of initial contact with these images. Writer and director Elia K. Schneider is the daughter of survivors, so I think she should be given the benefit of the doubt here. Nonetheless, Judgment on a Gray Beach seems, like its characters, to be working on autopilot, its pairing of discordant visuals and sounds exhaustively rote: in addition to the Louis Armstrong, we hear The Chordettes’ “Lollipop,” Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” and Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” over the speakers, invariably providing the soundtrack to some horror or another. This move, really a gimmick, does nothing to illuminate the Holocaust—or Kafka, for that matter.
As witnesses and victims die, as personal memory becomes cultural memory, we should be very concerned with who inherits this knowledge and what knowledge it is that they are inheriting. Here, the trivializing takeaway is that Auschwitz was kind of like a Kafka novel.