California Repertory Company and the Long Beach Opera are putting on the short story, “In The Penal Colony,” which features the torture and execution of a character called the condemned person.
American composer Philip Glass read Franz Kafka’s “In The Penal Colony” and transformed it into an opera. Formerly incarcerated students at Long Beach State have collaborated with staff to perform in this piece.
The fascination with the unempathetic judicial system is one of the main focuses in this opera. Humanity is questioned in this chilling story as the commandant expects the explorer to witness the execution of the condemned man.
“In The Penal Colony” involves four main characters: the officer, the explorer, the soldier and the condemned man. As the explorer questions if this cruel, heartless act should even take place, the officer continues to share his infatuation with the apparatus.
Director Jeffrey Janisheski conducted interviews with the previously imprisoned students to put their own spin on this opera.
“I really wanted to take a larger view and show that America is a type of penal colony really marginalizing people, not solving problems, but hiding people,” Janisheski said.
According to Janisheski, the biggest struggle about putting on this opera is that it is an ambitious piece. He said this show is less about capital punishment, but instead about the mark that prisons leave on the prisoners. His hope is for people to see the two stories alongside each other, and the tension between them.
Kevin Johnson, director of marketing for the Cal Rep performing wing, said that the transition for these students from being behind bars to being free is hard due to the way they were treated in prison.
“I think it’s a really cool collab between professors and students and to hear the voices of other students in a theatrical and powerful way,” Johnson said.
The sold-out show premieres April 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the LBSU studio theater and will run until May 5.