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“Satan is in this house saying, ‘Satisfy yourself.'”
The house in question is the domain of the Karamazov men, but in Delirium, nobody — except maybe the devil — gets any satisfaction. This production launches EgoPo Classic Theater’s Russian Masters Festival, with Chekhov, Tolstoy and Gogol still to come.
Herding cats, catching a few
The plot: Three brothers and their brutal father are locked in unrelenting battle. Fyodor (Robert Smythe) is a dissolute, vicious man who wants the sexy, reckless Grushenka (Kayla Anthony) for himself, despite — or perhaps because — his son, Mitya (Chris Anthony), a depraved, self-loathing thief, is crazy for her. But Mitya is engaged to rich Katerina (Kelly McCaughan) who is willing to devote her life to him, while the hopeless intellectual brother, Ivan (Johnny Smith), is crazy about Katerina. The third brother, Alyosha (Anthony Crosby), is the spiritual one, trying desperately to keep his faith, despite the fact that his mentor, Father Zossima, is (literally) a sock puppet. A crucial character — keep your eye on him — is the butler Smerdyakov (Ross Beschler).
As the director, Brenna Geffers has a lot of cats to herd in this over-stylized production. First, there’s the foundational novel, the famous Russian book (822 pages long in my edition), plus the adaptation by a major Irish playwright, Enda Walsh. Theatre O, an experimental English company, adds another layer as Walsh’s collaborator. Then theater students at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, co-producer of this show, spent nine days "devising" their version of the play with its Philadelphia cast. (Still with me?) There’s more: fights, choreographed by Arlen Hancock, are impressive; lighting, designed by Eric Baker, is splashy. Little puppets (created by Brian Jones) represent many other characters who emerge from suitcases.
Less is more
The upshot is that there is too much of everything except drama. Dostoevsky is drowned in a self-indulgent, coke-snorting contemporary style, which mixes talky narrative and talky dialogue with mime and loud music.
The novel is massive — philosophically and theologically as well as literarily — but little of this is onstage. “The Grand Inquisitor,” the most famous and powerful section of The Brothers Karamazov, is omitted entirely, leaving us with nothing but serial rapists and murderers in a litany of cruelty. It’s all Showtime! Gossip! Bad behavior!
But what is onstage are strong actors who throw themselves into the fray with energy and courage, and they are to be applauded.
What, When, Where
Delirium. By Theatre O and Enda Walsh. Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Brenna Geffers directed. EgoPo Classic Theater. Through November 13, 2016 at the Latvian Society, 531 N. Seventh St., Philadelphia. (267) 273-1414 or egopo.org.
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