Already closed | 1h 10m | East Village

In the Penal Colony

From 42 member  reviews
Members say: Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Edgy

About the show

In this new adaptation of Franz Kafka's short story, three black men convene in an unnamed penal colony, asking what it means for them to exist in the media, when observed, when consumed, when punished.  More…

Adapted from Franz Kafka's short story of the same name, "In the Penal Colony," investigates the performance of power, patriarchy and punishment. 

Member Reviews (42)


Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Edgy
Avg Score

Indulgent, Fluffy, Edgy, Banal, Ambitious

See it if If you want a modern work from a classic writer. Some good choreography. One hour long.

Don't see it if If you don't like the absurd to a classic writer. Deals with black prisoners and what is expected of black society.

Insipid, Excellent singing, Quality choreography

See it if you love performance art with very good choreography and limited but high quality singing

Don't see it if you want anything that resembles a play or deals with the issues that Kafka and Hugo, before him, brilliantly explored

Also I normally don't like performance art, so I was wondering on the way h... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Confusing, Profound, Energetic, Passionate

See it if Intense in your face robotic repetitive movement and performance related to the experience of​ being a black man in America.

Don't see it if you are expecting a cohesive story with a narrative--this is an explosion of repetitive movements and intense bursts of action.

Also It is a short one hour piece and the four men who perform are remarkab... Read more Read less

Intense, Resonant, Absorbing, Great acting

See it if you are interested in a new adaptation of Kafka's short story,encompassing the Black Am experience; outstanding acting,coregraphy&athletics

Don't see it if Even if racism is not your fav.subject, there is more reason to enjoy this show as "a metaphor of society",following Theatre of the Absurd

Thought-provoking, Ambitious

See it if you like performance art or are interested in social justice.

Don't see it if you need a clear, defined narrative.

Fierce, Edgy, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you are thrilled by a powerful and raw vision, a surreal extension of the cruel treadmill young black men must endure. Tour de force acting.

Don't see it if you need clear plot lines and signposts to guide you through a story.

Great singing, Absorbing, Great acting, Edgy, Ambitious

See it if You are interested in highly physical, political theatre that is an adaptation of a classic text

Don't see it if You have an aversion to nonlinear theatre

Intelligent, Great singing, Great acting, Edgy, Dizzying

See it if you love black men. If you are enthralled by muscular physical technically precise choreography. great singing and acting. the cast is super

Don't see it if you can't handle the truth about the horrifying history of America's use and subjugation of black men.

Thought-provoking, Riveting, Edgy, Great singing, Great acting

See it if You are interested in seeing performers do things on stage that you wish you could. These three young men are inspiring!!

Don't see it if You are not ready to have an honest conversation afterwards!!

Edgy, Great acting, Entertaining, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if You are concerned about the lives of black people specifically Black men. intense physical deeply rooted and highly absorbing work

Don't see it if you are unable to think consciously about how your identity affects how you view the world.or you think that KAFKA is going to be at center

During previews
Hydrated, Mercifully brief, Thought-provoking, Pretentious, Energetic

See it if you want to see a tacit message about the treatment & expectations of black men in our culture via a tireless, arty interpretation of Kafka.

Don't see it if ur looking for a faithful & straightforward adaptation of Kafka's story; u don't want to spend most of the hour watching men chug Gatorade.

During previews
Slow, Thought-provoking, Intense, Edgy, Ambitious

See it if Loosely based on Kafka's novella, Haymon's performance piece uses movement & soundscape to deal w/ black male incarceration Dense & dazzling

Don't see it if Highly conceptual & fragmented w/ little dialogue Piece relies on mobility - military drills, hip-hop,vogue, & slavery rituals for message

During previews
Well executed, Thoughtful, Hybrid, Athletic

See it if you’re interested in contemporary take-offs on Kafka, or in issues of incarceration & surveillance, especially as practiced on black men.

Don't see it if you're expecting a traditional play or a “faithful” adaptation of Kafka.

Also 3 plays I’ve seen recently examine how black people perform (or are ex... Read more Read less

During previews
Didn’t know what it was about.

See it if You appreciate works in orogress.

Don't see it if You want coherent story.

During previews
Experimentally absurd, Practically textless, Hydrated, Numbing, Energetic

See it if 3 black men doing calisthenics, singing and drinking lots of water, obscurely mirroring Kafka are your cup of tea

Don't see it if experimental theatre of the absurd is not your metier, need to feel more connected to what's being presented

During previews
Engages the head but neither heart nor nerve, High-concept

See it if Physical tragedy instead of physical comedy. Actors and production team completely on point.

Don't see it if dislike when playwrights announce "why I wrote this play," undercutting what should be self-evident.

Also Story & dialogue not significantly rewritten except that Kafka’s tatto... Read more Read less

During previews
Could be tighter, Intelligent, Intense, Edgy, Ambitious

See it if You like Kafka. You like movement and drive. These are very talented actors in a small space made even smaller by the staging.

Don't see it if you want a serene afternoon. you want straight narrative. You dont want to have to think.

Also The concept of this production was very interesting. It was not always... Read more Read less

During previews
Stylized, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Intelligent

See it if you appreciate efforts to create a new vocabulary with non-traditional story lines and dialogue: a visceral exploration of imprisonment.

Don't see it if you prefer linear plots that are entertaining, easy to follow and not confusing.

During previews
Resonant, Thought-provoking, Absorbing

See it if you're interested in seeing a powerful, movement-heavy piece examining ideas of power, patriarchy and punishment in society.

Don't see it if you need a linear, fully developed plot in order to understand a play rather than something that tends to be more conceptual overall.

During previews
Great lighting, Poorly written script, Relevant, Great acting, Confusing

See it if The topic of penal system

Don't see it if Experimental theatre

During previews
Intense, Intelligent, Great staging, Great singing, Absorbing

See it if You like new ways of looking at classic Literature. With music and dance and hip hop being used to present the concept.

Don't see it if If you don't like Hip-Hop and and stories told for a modern audience.

During previews
Challenging, Impressionistic, Nonlinear, Nightmarish

See it if You enjoy shows that make you think, that present disturbing aspects of life.

Don't see it if You prefer shows that clearly tell a story. This one is open to interpretation.

Also I really enjoyed the singing and stepping, but now I feel guilty about... Read more Read less

During previews
Thought-provoking, Intense, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if You enjoy strong devised/physical theatre and slightly enigmatic scene work. You want a piece investigating the black Male experience.

Don't see it if You need clear text or a linear narrative. You want something light and fluffy.

During previews
Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if This was more performance art than play, but it was really well put together, and the performers were excellent

Don't see it if You're looking for a well developed plot or traditional linear structure

During previews
Relevant, Profound, Absorbing

See it if you're interested in a new interpretation of Kafka's story

Don't see it if you're looking for a traditional play

July 18th, 2019
"Black Lives Trapped in a Reimagined ‘Penal Colony.’ Miranda Haymon’s play relocates Kafka’s horrific tale of punishment to a contemporary world where African-American men are expendable entertainment."
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July 25th, 2019
"Franz Kafka's 'In the Penal Colony' is the ambitious inspiration for New York Theatre Workshop's latest release."
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July 19th, 2019
"The questions Haymon raises are vitally important ones, but this may not be the right format for them…Kafka imagined a machine in which written laws tear into a person's flesh. Her version of 'In the Penal Colony' doesn't offer anything nearly as terrifying as that."
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July 20th, 2019
"It's debatable whether Haymon really even needed the frame of Kafka's story on which to hang her ideas. It's a somewhat uneasy matchup. Kafka's work, like Haymon's, certainly deals with power and punishment and a failure of the justice system. However, the story has a very European sensibility."
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Cast & Creatives (3)