Friday, November 4, 2011

REVIEW: 'Brothers Karamazov' a struggle on stage

From left: Jacob Cooper (Alyosha),
Brendan Ragan (Dmitry) and Jesse Dornan (Ivan) 
Many books make for great plays. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s more-lauded-than-read masterpiece “The Brothers Karamazov” isn’t one of them. At least not judging by the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s staging Wednesday of Roland Reed’s script directed by Andrei Malaev-Babel, a Conservatory faculty member.

The epic novel about a dirty old man and his three disparate sons has never been considered an easy read. Dostoyevsky’s obsession with religious faith and how doubt influences one’s morality permeates the book and play, which reportedly uses only text penned by the original author.

These heavy themes loom large over the small Cook Theatre stage, crushing any momentum that might be generated by the convoluted plot.

The acting by the entire, 12-person class of second year students can’t be faulted. It ranges from solid to superb. If the play weren’t so long — three hours including a single 15-minute intermission — I would recommend attending solely to watch Kelly Campbell’s gripping performance as the play’s Jezebel, Grushenka Agrafena.

Brendan Ragan (Dmitry) Jacob Cooper (Alyosha) and Jesse Dornan (Ivan) are also commendable as the Karamazov brothers, as is Francisco Rodriguez, who plays their drunk dad as well as a police captain.

But the 150 minutes of stage time is too full of characters trading monologues rather than dialogue to engage. The conflicts feel forced because the characters are made to come across as vessels for Dostoyevsky’s musings rather than persons in dire positions.

The costumes by Maxey Whitehead and Kristen Lynne Blossom are excellent but the sparse staging did each scene a disservice. There’s essentially no stage scenery. Props basically consisted of black stools, wine bottles and glasses.

That’s a lot to ask of a theatergoer but it might have worked if 14 audience members were not seated in a semi-circle around where the action took place. One couldn’t help but watch several squirm as a dream sequence dragged or notice that three of the chairs were empty after intermission. Incidentally, the two people seated next to me also didn’t return for the second and final act.

After already investing 80 minutes (and price of admission) they should’ve stayed. The second act flows much better than the first with a strong court scene conclusion. But it was not enough to overcome the many obstacles presented by the play, which has moments of brilliance too often undermined by a snake-like story line and tiresome pontificating.

What: Asolo Conservatory presents “The Brothers Karamazov”
When: Nov. 1-20
Where: Cook Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Tickets: $28/$27 matinees/students receive 50 percent off with advance ticket purchase
Information: 941-351-8000 or

1 comment:

lglass said...

Saw the play last night. Although it was disjointed and the range of emotions swinging so violently in most scenes that a viewer could get whiplash, if you have a lot of patience for a non-linear, well acted, experimental event, go see it. You will certainly get your money's worth.