Friday, January 24, 2014

Painted Filly and Sugarglass, 'The Brothers Karamazov': Of Vice And Men

An intimate adaptation by actor/director Nicholas Johnson locates the heartbeat of Dostoevsky's epic novel. 

Samuel Beckett Theatre
Jan 23-25, 27-Feb 1

My review of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, adapted by Nicholas Johnson, coming up just as soon as I rescue a certain frozen peasant ...

Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, is nearly 1,000 pages of passion, philosophy and murder, picturing the paths taken by a father and his sons in 19th century Russia. This studied adaptation by actor/director Nicholas Johnson for Painted Filly, with design supplied by the effervescent Sugarglass company, achieves an intimacy with the combustible Karamazovs that conveys the cursed state of Man. 

Reunited are the tyrant Fyodor and his sons: Dmitri, a champagne-chugging sensualist, returned home to claim an inheritance withheld by his father, who's lusting after the same jezebel as his son; and the more pragmatic Ivan is a rationalist whose cynicism spurs conflict with his younger brother Alyosha, a monastic novice and protagonist of the plot. The Karamazovs are of the same class as the aristocrats of The Cherry Orchard but where Chekov was showing them the door, Dostoyevsky's nihilist Russia beats them to it. 

Despite being bookish in parts, this adaptation is humourous, poetic and delivered by an instinctive cast (probably the result of a domestic residency where the actors seemed to literally live like brothers). A tyrannical turn from Daniel Reardon as the hostile patriarch pushes proceedings while the monk Alyosha is played with restraint by Ethan Sawyer for the play's more meditative moments. Nicholas Johnson smoothly articulates the reasonings and demons of Ivan Karamazov. Moe Dunford is the gut of this production, though, as a Dmitri both furious and futile. Unpredictable, he'll either thrash the Karamazovs and send a chair flying or carry the heavy weight of the production's sober truth: of what a saddened and feckless thing it is to have free will.

Under Colm McNally's ecclesiastical lighting and kitted in Stephen Quinn's handsome aristocratic attire, this production belies the burden of lives lived in doubt.  Its ending, however, tries to ascertain a certainty, a golden truth that could lead to salvation; a sweeping metaphor for theatre itself. 

What did everybody else think?


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