Footsteps and brandy bottles thump their way through The Brothers Karamazov, creating a rhythm of intimacy that might not have been easily accomplished in a space larger than the Mazer Theater. This quality combined with the musical choices and other sound effects forms a collectively effective soundtrack. The theater's intimacy also bolsters the production's other strong points. My first reaction to the set's wooden, muted tones was that I wanted to spend some time there, and because of the audience's proximity to the stage, I was able to. When the family members dine, we practically dine with them; when the brothers Alyosha (Nick Leshi), the monk, and Ivan (Joe Laureiro), the scholar, converse at a cafe, we are eavesdroppers. And when the third brother, Dmitri (Sean M. Grady), the free-living ex-soldier, tells Alyosha how he seduced his principled fiancée Katerina (Colette D'Antona), we are witness to both the riveting enacted flashback and the conspiratorial excitement with which he shares the tale.
It was during this scene that I began to be drawn into the story, but such moments in director Tal Aviezer's inspired theatricality unfortunately turned out to be an occasional occurrence in a nearly three-hour evening. Now if any play can merit the length of a Russian novel, it's probably one whose source material is literally a Russian novel. And it may be too much to expect that such a plotline could move quickly. But the length could have served to convey an epic piece in whose intricacies and detail an audience member becomes lost. Instead, it plods along, awkwardly paced and drowned in speeches. In the effort to cover every plot point and philosophical statement, the main ideas become diluted.
Certainly, the Red Monkey Theater Group has taken on an ambitious task. It could not have been easy to stage the complexities of this Dostoyevsky story, in which, after a long separation, the three Karamazov brothers are reunited, in part due to the plotting and whims of Feydor Karamazov (Mace Perlman), their lecherous, pleasure-seeking, alcoholic father—who also happens to be showering attentions on Grushenka (Angela Perri), the woman his son Dmitri loves.
As this happens, Ivan keeps a close watch on his mercurial father while contemplating leaving town again, and the elder monk, Father Zosima, tells a reluctant Alyosha that his proper place for the time being is outside the monastery and that he must re-enter his family's world. When the plot is exploded by a horrible, if apparently inevitable, crime, the characters are forced into a contemplation of the crime and their possible complicity in it.
Though almost all of the performances could have benefited from some shaping, the relationship between the brothers is conveyed nicely. The brothers have long lived apart, but when the rational Ivan—earnestly played by Joe Laureiro, declares resolutely that he loves his brother Alyosha, we know it to be true. Sean M. Grady exhibits the most range as Dmitri, a character who understands that he is in many ways a reflection of the father he despises. What is unfortunate is that while both Colette D'Antona and Angela Perri demonstrate crafted performances, they sometimes seem to be in a different play from the other characters.
The script, an adaptation by Carolyn J. Fuchs, could stand to be trimmed—at times it's repetitive and even contradictory. Some of these contradictions do have merit in offering clear glimpses into complex characters. When Feydor proclaims that "the Russian peasant needs beating" shortly after chastising the priests for living off the peasants' money, we see him for the empty, meanspirited person he is. And when Katerina says she loves Dmitri, though she knows he has treated her poorly, we know such things happen in life. But when, in an earlier scene, the same Katerina crassly demands, "Give me the money" immediately after having been described as both proud and delicate, it's just confusing. Such a line may work as irony in a novel, but it's a difficult problem for an actor to solve.
The director's notes in the program read, "The power of Dostoyevsky's words is such that they breach the barriers of time, language, and culture, straddling continental divides and over a hundred years of history, to, as Hamlet would say, 'hold the mirror up to nature.' " But it's not enough to have good intentions and strong source material. No doubt the story confronts pertinent modern issues about how to live, domestic crime, redemption, and the extent of familial bonds—and I respect the director for wanting to address them. I just would've liked to have seen myself in the mirror.