Review: ‘The Brothers Karamazov’

Fyodor Karamazov/

Fyodor Karamazov/

Judge/Devil … Robert Elliott

Dmitri Karamazov … Michael Chaban

Ivan Karamazov … Michael Ornstein

Alyosha Karamazov … Matthew Rauch

Smerdyakov/Plotkinov … Ed Shea

Father Zosima/Mussyalovich/

Prosecutor … Joneal Joplin

Rakitin/Innkeeper … Paul DeBoy

Katya Verkhovtsev … Susan Ericksen

Grushenka

Svetlov … Katherine Heasley

Fenya/Samsonov … Brooks Almy

Watching the bloody dissolution and fratricidal conflict of Russia today as it seemingly plays to a tragic conclusion on the world stage makes Anthony Clarvoe’s new adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” that much more intense, and the Repertory Theater of St. Louis production is an evening of high drama.

Produced in cooperation with the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and heading for that city after it closes here in February, “Brothers” benefits from strong acting by the entire cast, fascinating and imaginative staging by Brian Kulick and a brilliantly designed set by Mark Wendland that uses something as simple as kitchen chairs to show the rise and fall of the Karamazovs’ world.

Clarvoe’s ability to take moments of the past and make them highly magnified, slightly unfocused and yet strangely rational views of today, has been shown here before; his plays “The Living” and “Show and Tell” had successful Rep Studio productions the last two seasons.

The Russian masterpiece of guilt and redemption, fratricide and patricide, repression and revolution, works in powerful, often-raucous style, with sex and violence as common as raisins in the holiday fruitcake. Susan Ericksen and Katherine Heasley, as Katya and Grushenka, respectively, are brilliantly contrasted even as they make the line between good and bad as vague as it is in life.

Robert Elliott, outstanding as Capt. Queeg in the theater’s recent production of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” repeats as Fyodor, the outrageous father, though there are too many Queeg-like moments, especially in the early going. Michael Chaban, Michael Ornstein and Matthew Rauch excel as Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha, the sons who represent, respectively, passion, intellect and spirituality.

Ed Shea completes the picture as Smerdyakov, the illegitimate son whose desire to be part of the family eventually triggers its destruction. It’s a brilliant characterization, often funny, often sad, always penetrating. Paul DeBoy, Brooks Almy and Joneal Joplin round out the cast, with Joplin, who has been working with the Rep through more than 20 seasons and 70 productions, showing his versatility in three pivotal roles.

The creative team of Clarvoe, Kulick and Wendland has not taken a novel to the stage, but has built a play, and it works on all levels. Wendland’s set employs a symbolic church and a lot of straight-back chairs, and they assume a variety of positions as the world rotates, revolves and turns upside-down. It’s simple but wonderfully effective.

Most of the players have worked here before, as Steve Woolf, artistic director, continues to build a semi-regular company.

The Brothers Karamazov

Production

ST. LOUIS A Repertory Theater of St. Louis production of a play in three acts by Anthony Clarvoe, based on the novel by Dostoyevsky. Directed by Brian Kulick; sets and costumes, Mark Wendland.

Crew

Lighting, Max De Volder; stage manager, T.R. Martin. Artistic director, Steve Woolf. Opened, reviewed Jan. 6, 1995, at the Loretto-Hilton Center, St. Louis. 900 seats; $ 34.50 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.
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