The Annex

January 2 - 18, 2004
Thursday - Saturday at 7:00pm
Sunday at 2:30pm

adapted & directed by Alexander Harrington
lighting & set design Tona Penna
costume design Rebecca J. Bernstein
fight choreographer J. David Brimmer
stage manager Erica E. Conrad
movement director Jodi Levitan
assistant director Eero Laine
music performed & selected by The Russian Duo
gypsy dancing Sveta Yankovskaya
featuring Gary Andrews, Steven L. Barron, Anthony Cataldo, Stafford Clark-Price, Tony Crane, Alessio Franko, Tony Hagopian, Jim Iseman III, Danielle Langlois, Christopher LucasChristopher Lukas, J.M. McDonough, Chris Meyer, Winslow Mohr, George Morafetis, peter Oliver, Jennifer Opalacz, Margo Skinner, Yaakov Sullivan & Sorrel Tomlinson

NY Times Critic's Notebook
Theatre Mania Review Review

Alexander Harrington returns to La MaMa to stage "The Brothers Karamazov, Part II," the completing chapter of his mammoth adaptation of Dostoyevsky's masterpiece. The production is successor to Harrington's "The Brothers Karamazov, Part I," which was presented by The Eleventh Hour Theater Company and The Culture Project at 45 Bleecker Street Theatre in February, 2003), and which The New Yorker (Goings On About Town) deemed "a gem of a production" and the Post (Donald Lyons) hailed as "a success against all odds."

The Nicholas Nickelby-scale production features a cast of 20 (15 adults, four kids and a dog), music by The Russian Duo (Tamara Volskaya and Anatoly Trofimov), a troupe of Gypsy dancers headed by Svetlana Yankofskaya, and two intermissions when you can munch Zankuski (appetizers) from Pravda, the nightclub/restaurant on Lafayette Street. Much of the audience's seating will be on sofas and armchairs.

"The Brothers Karamazov, Part II" concludes a seven-year project which initially evolved out of a collaboration between The Culture Project and The Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. In 1996, Culture Project producer Allen Buchman and Lab member Harrington discovered that they shared an interest in Dostoyevsky and came up with the idea of adapting "The Brothers Karamazov" as a six-part series, each part to be staged by a different director. Harrington curated the overall project. His production of the first part (1998) was well-received. The Village Voice (Marty Washburn) had high praise for the key performances and commended the adaptation's ability to reveal Dostoyevsky's genius without borrowed contexts and reshapings. Subsequently, Harrington was the only one of the six adapters who kept working on the project. Nevertheless, he realized he probably couldn't get a six-part serial produced. So he changed to a two-part adaptation, based on what he saw as the divided essence of the novel.

"The Brothers Karamazov", tells the story of the perverse and debauched landowner and moneylender Fyodor Karamazov and his three sons: the hot-tempered and sensual Dmitry, the intellectual Ivan, and the dreamy and religious mystic, Alyosha; the trio are widely regarded as representing the three national psychological types of Russia in Dostoyevsky's day. The novel partly revolves around the murder of Fyodor, of which Dmitry--who has been fighting with his father over money and competing with him for the affection of the femme fatale Grushenka Svetlova--is suspected. On the one hand, the novel is a thrilling murder mystery and soap opera; on the other hand, it is a profound philosophical work, which pits secular utopianism against Christianity. The first part of Harrington's adaptation centered on the novel's philosophical aspects. The second part follows the simple and thrilling narrative plot of Dmitry's trial. If you missed the first part, don't worry: Part II opens with a speedy, ten-minute recap to get you oriented.

Referring to the Annex Theater's illustrious history, Alexander Harrington amusingly declares that "it will be an epic show in an epic space." Action will alternate between the floor and the proscenium at first, then the production will open up and use the entire space as the courtroom.

Director Alexander Harrington is son of author and social activist Michael Harrington ("The Other America"). He specializes in classical theater productions that emphasize the actor's craft. Harrington's shows are distinguished by savvy casting and beautiful voices. He came to La MaMa in 1997 with a mostly musical "Agamemnon" and followed with "Henry V" (1999) and "Henry IV," parts 1 and 2 (in rotating repertory, 2001). Along the way, he became founder and artistic director of The Eleventh Hour Theatre Company, for which he has also directed "Richard II" (presented at HERE) and "The Brothers Karamazov, Part I." Harrington started out as an actor, performing as a child with Soho Rep and the Veterans Ensembel Theatre Co. (VETCO). He was anti-war coordinator for the Democratic Socialists of America during the Persian Gulf War and was a youth delegate to the Socialist International in 1991. His early work included directed his own adaptations of Chekhov's "The Kiss," and Sherwood Anderson's "The Philosopher" for Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab festivals at The Salon. Other productions include "Billy Budd" (Westbeth, Circle in the Square Downtown), premieres of "The Family Hour (The Actors Studio) and "Linguish" (NY Int'l Fringe Festival), Anouilh's "Antigone" (The Salon) and "Twelfth Night" (The Eclectic Co.). He is an original Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab and a member of the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit.

The Russian Duo (music) is a partnership of two distinguished Russian instrumentalists. Tamara Volskaya is a world master of the four-stringed domra and mandolin, who attained the status and honor of "Merited artist of Russia" as well as "Laureate of the USSR Competition." Anatola Trofimov, master of the bayan, is also a "Merited artist of Russia" and gold winner of the prestigious International Competition in Vienna. His compositions are published and widely performed throughout Russia.

Set and Lighting Design are by Tony Penna. The cast includes Gary Andrews, Steven L. Barron, Anthony Cataldo, Stafford Clark-Price, J. Anthony Crane, Alessio Franko, Tony Hagopian, Jim Iseman III, Danielle Langlois, Christopher Lukas, J.M. Mc Donnough, Chris Meyer, Winslow Mohr, George Morafetis, Peter Oliver, Jennifer Opalacz, Margo Skinner, Yaakov Sullivan, Sorrel Tomlinson, and the Gypsy Dancer Svetlana Yankovskaya.



by Margo Jefferson
Januray 13, 2004

It's good to step outside the security of our homeland culture. Nothing can be taken for granted. History changes, but so does the meaning of words. Depending on the situation, words like freedom and tyranny and faith have different applications and consequences. When does faith constrict freedom? When does freedom become a cover-up for tyranny? Most important, who has the power to define these words?

This month audiences at the LaMama Experimental Theater Club in the East Village can enter the corrupt czarist world of 19th-century Russia and the rapacious Communist one of 20th-century Poland. "The Brothers Karamazov: Part II," the Eleventh Hour Theater's adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel, is playing in the huge Annex theater, while two one-act plays, "Striptease" and "Out at Sea" by the Polish writer Slawomir Mrozek, are tucked into the intimate first-floor theater next door. All three works run through Sunday.

So many 19th-century novels were published in serial form that they often work best as serialized television dramas. This "Karamazov" began as a six-part stage serial with six directors, but it ended up as a two-part project split into two four-hour evenings, both adapted and directed by Alexander Harrington.

Part 1 played at the Culture Project last February. If you missed or have forgotten much of it, do not fear. Part 2 begins with a fine, fast summary. The actors move swiftly onto the stage, striking the poses that best capture their characters. Then, alternating between narrative and dialogue, they fill us in and whet our appetite for what's to come.

It's story theater: we watch the page take on stage life. Here is Fyodor Karamazov, a greedy landowner turned moneylender; here is his eldest son, Dmitri, the lustful hot-tempered ex-army officer who quarrels bitterly and constantly with his father over money and the love of Grushenka, a beautiful, shrewdly wanton Polish woman. Shortly after the play begins, Dmitri will be accused of killing his father. He will be defended by his half-brothers: Ivan, the freethinking cynic who declared that "when god does not exist, everything is permitted" and debates the devil at night in his room at night; and kind, pure-hearted Alyosha, a novice in a monastery. And don't forget Pavel Smerdyakov, Fydor's illegitimate son, reduced to being his devious, house servant.

So many high emotions and vehement declarations. "We are all cruel. We are all monsters. We all make children suffer." "I'm so ashamed — I'm ashamed of my whole life." "I am a servant, sir. If my betters see fit to make a fool of me, I must endure." So many minor but unforgettable figures, too: a mad peasant woman snatching toys from her dying son; a rich widow who knows just how to torment men who try to borrow money.

In a just theater world, audiences would be able to see this production — which is resourcefully staged and intelligently dramatized — over two nights. (Or, combined with Part 1, over four). As is, despite a sampling of Russian food during both intermissions, audience energy ran down. There was so much to take in.

And what about all those long demanding speeches, demanding for the actors as well as for the audience? In a reasonable world this hard-working company would have more rehearsal time, too. When you're reading a book you can say: "I'm putting this down now. I need to be fresh for what comes next." Theater doesn't have that luxury. Maybe companies should consider joint productions and ticket arrangements that would let people see a play like "Karamazov" over two or more nights.

I'm not faulting LaMama, which stages more eclectic and innovative work than most theaters dream of. I'm asking theater companies that want to do this kind of work to think practically about what will increase the size and enthusiasm of their audiences.

I'd like to see more evenings of one-act plays, whether by a single writer or by several. It's a terrific form and a demanding one. Like a short story, it leaves one satisfied but eager for more. (Hence more likely to come back to the theater.)

Slawomir Mrozek wrote short stories before he wrote plays, and these one-acts are parables about the civilization of totalitarianism. I say "civilization" because totalitarian governments want people to believe that resistance of any kind is barbarism. To be civilized is to be on the side of power; the ruthless arrogance of the aristocrat easily becomes that of the apparatchik.

In "Out at Sea" three starving men stuck on a raft agree that one must be eaten to save the other two. They all wear impeccable dress suits, so it is only right that they proceed in elaborately formal ways. Each man's language reflects his physical state and degree of power. The Fat Castaway (Paul Todaro) is a blunt manipulator. The Medium Castaway (Cornel Gabara) is more tactful but eager to be on the right side. The Thin Castaway (Troy Lavallee) is anxious and placating. The Medium and Thin men both want "something to eat," but it is their overbearing companion who notes, "We must not eat something but someone."

Should they draw lots? No, free elections are better: they will campaign then vote. What follows is ruthless electioneering. But what happens internally is worse. Fraud and bullying go only so far; the real trick is to persuade someone that being a sacrifice is his choice.

Mr. Mrozek was a cartoonist for years, and one sees that here. It isn't just the look of each man, it's how each moves: the slightly exaggerated gestures that give his character away. Their talk could be coming from big balloons filled with the hot air of self-serving desperation.

"Out at Sea " is ghoulish and high spirited. "Striptease" is more obviously grim. Here two men with briefcases, (Mr. I and Mr. II), find themselves in what is clearly a prison of some kind. They spend a lot of time and euphemistic talk trying to describe — or avoid describing — what brought them there and whether they are forbidden to leave. Of course they fight, each accusing the other of making things worse with the unseen authorities. Shouldn't they try to leave? says the more aggressive Mr. II (Mr. Gabara). No, answers Mr. I (Mr. Lavallee), that's an external choice. He is concerned with his internal, his personal freedom, Once again the cartoonist in Mr. Mrozek joins the playwright. The authoritarian power is represented by a huge white hand that moves slowly out of the wings and silently demands obeisance.

Here, too, the actors have physical traits — stances and gestures — that matter as much as their words. Paul Bargetto directs with a keen sense of this visual truth; the truth of cartoons on the page, and of commedia on the stage. The actors respond, and Young-ju Baik's spare, bold set supplies the right background.

A friend who accompanied me wondered if American audiences might find Mr. Mrozek's style difficult to grasp. Every culture needs to think about language and power. These plays have a lot to teach us.

The Brothers Karamazov, Part II

Reviewed By: David Finkle
January 6, 2004

A dramatized tinkering with Fyodor Dostoevsky's late-19th-century Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov might sound like the premise of a literary joke. This isn't to say that stage adaptations of novels are a new idea or necessarily a bad one; think of the eight-hour Nicholas Nickleby, one of the theatrical highlights of the 1980s. On the other hand, think of The Cider House Rules...

There are myriad approaches to storytelling in fiction; some would seem to fit within the flexible confines of story theater and some wouldn't. Dostoevsky's dense tale of three brothers wrestling with the existence of God might strike many people as a daunting prospect for theatricalization -- especially after Richard Brooks's bland 1958 movie version, which starred Yul Brynner, Claire Bloom, Maria Schell, and William Shatner (long before he was Captain Kirk). What do you do about the novel's weighty philosophizing, its succession of deliberations on religion, and so on?

The idea of grappling with these challenges might stop anyone in his tracks but, evidently, not Alexander Harrington, who adapted and then staged the first part of his ambitious undertaking for the Eleventh Hour Theatre Co. at the Culture Project last February and has now hauled The Brothers Karamazov, Part II to the far more capacious La MaMa Annex. In a request for contributions posted on the Internet, Harrington describes his work as 7½ hours long -- 3¾ hours each part. But, unless I somehow mistimed it, the second half actually runs more than four hours.

I bring up that vital statistic because, even while encouraging intrepid theatergoers to see what Harrington has wrought, I feel honor-bound to let them know just how intrepid they need to be. During the performance I attended, the number of audience members who left at intermission and even during the show's three acts of 38 scenes was high -- but not, I hasten to speculate, because of the production's deficiencies (though there are some). No, Harrington's lengthy piece simply requires the kind of stamina needed to follow a complex plot, to comprehend the ins and outs of circuitous philosophical arguments, and to get through the production's more than occasional longueurs.

Since BK, Pt. II is preceded by a 10-minute recounting of BK, Pt. I, patrons who don't know what's happened -- or who have forgotten because, like me, they trudged through Dostoevsky's brilliant work some time ago -- are quickly brought up to speed. The three brothers Dimitry (J. Anthony Crane), Ivan (Stafford Clark-Price), and Alexei (Christopher Pollard Meyer), sometimes called Alyosha, are differently involved in the disposition of 3,000 rubles being used to buy the attentions and, perhaps, the heart of the alluring money-lender Grushenka (Sorrel Tomlinson). Although Dimitry is married to the seemingly patient Katerina (Danielle Langlois), he is vying with his miserly father, Fyodor (Gary Andrews) for Grushenka's favors, while Ivan may have developed eyes for Katerina. Alyosha, the spiritual brother, has his eye on a God he knows is real, whereas the essayist Ivan has proclaimed in print that if God is dead, everything is permitted -- this at a time when the writings of Nicholay Gogol and Friedrich Nietzsche were circulating. Dimitry is in the middle of the metaphorical theological dispute they represent.

When the action picks up in the second half, Dimitry still has Grushenka on his mind -- so much so that he considers killing his father for those 3,000 rubles and is arrested for murder when his father checks out under the violent circumstances of a crushed skull. Although Harrington includes a couple of subplots -- the most notable of them featuring the dying, young Ilyusha (Winslow Mohr) and his aggrieved family -- he hews closely to how the Karamazov brothers relate or don't relate to one another before and during Dimitry's trial. While Dimitry maintains his innocence in the face of incriminating evidence, Ivan believes that he's the guilty party and that he somehow colluded in his father's death with the old man's retainer and possible bastard son, Smerdyakov (Jim Iseman III), who happens to have his finger figuratively and literally on many of the family's secrets.

That's the basic saga. Notice how, stripped of Dostoevsky's muscular prose, it sounds as if it could be the raw stuff of not only supernal literature but also melodrama and/or soap opera. Handling it on the spacious La MaMa Annex floor -- where production designer Tony Penna has created shifting playing areas that are sensitively lit, though no lighting designer is credited -- Harrington does provide a dash of great literature, a soupçon of melodrama, and a dollop of soap opera.

There are times when the cast members, wearing Rebecca J. Bernstein's muted costumes (one outfit per character), seem to have been directed with care and other times when they seem to have been allowed or encouraged to overact or underact. Theatergoers who've weathered the first act and are thinking of slipping away before the second and third should be aware that they'll miss the most riveting segments if they do so. Alyosha's visit to Dimitry's prison cell is one example; Ivan's declaration to Alyosha of his implication in his father's death is another; Smerdyakov's admission to Ivan of his participation in Fyodor's death is another; and the trial scene, wherein prosecutor Fetyukovich (J.M. McDonnough) and defense attorney Doctor (Yaakov Sullivan) lock horns, is yet another. Each of these sequences has the crackling fire of solid drama.

Their success is due in so small part to the playing by J. Anthony Crane, Stafford Clark-Price, and Christopher Pollard Meyer as the spiritually tossed and tormented Karamazov siblings. There's no underestimating the effectiveness of the three actors' resemblance to one another; they unquestionably look like brothers and all seem to have the same ominous clouds passing over their handsome faces. Particularly in the first act, there are moments when Crane's Dimitry is showily histrionic; perhaps he believes that 19th-century Russians behaved thus. But when exchanging heartfelt dialogue with Clark-Price as the guilt-ridden Ivan or with Meyer as angelic Alyosha, Crane is a man of lambent moods. All three actors shine and so does Iseman, who, in the role of their likely half-brother, doesn't look like any of them. Rather, as Smerdyakov, he has the appearance of a faux-naif hiding black secrets under his ginger hair.

Among the rest of the cast -- many of them doing double and triple duty -- Sullivan and McDonnough are stalwart. So is the kinetic Anthony Cataldo as the politically precocious 13-year-old Kolya. Less compelling are Sorrel Tomlinson as Grushenka and Danielle Langlois as Katerina; the former gets the brittle money-lender side of her character but misses the feminine mystique, while the latter doesn't scratch much beneath the surface of a well-meaning, wronged woman. All of them are aided by Tamara Volskaya and Anatoly Trofimov, who provide mood-enhancing mandolin and accordion accompaniment from a lofty perch.

Alexander Harrington's Brothers Karamazov, Part II may not be Fyodor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, but it sure packs more of a wallop than Cliffs Notes on the original.
by Martin Denton
January 3, 2004

By any measure, Alexander Harrington's The Brothers Karamazov Part II is an extraordinary theatrical achievement. It's enormous: three sprawling acts in some 38 scenes (plus a prologue); twenty actors playing nearly five dozen characters; a running time of nearly 4-1/2 hours. It's audacious: one of the world's most famous novels, after all, is being tackled here, with a plot large and complicated enough for several TV mini-series; serious issues such as the nature and existence of God are contemplated, at length and in depth. And it's spectacular, at least by off-off-Broadway standards, with as many as five or six scenes laid out in the deep but intimate La MaMa Annex space at any given moment, depicting murders, funerals, and cityscapes, not to mention the most thrillingly and vividly staged courtroom scene I've ever seen in a theatre.

It is, in short, a dazzling, unforgettable, entirely captivating dramatic experience, one that lovers of theatre should not miss, its daunting length notwithstanding. Yes, Karamazov is demanding—of both actors and audience; but aren't the things really worth doing the ones that engage our energies most?

I came to The Brothers Karamazov a complete innocent, never having read the book in my misspent past, and (to my regret, now) having missed Part I when it was produced nearly a year ago. No matter: Harrington and company bring us up to speed in short order, first with a long but useful synopsis of the story so far in the program, and then, gratifyingly, with a ten-minute prologue that not only covers the same ground but also helpfully introduces us to all of the story's main players. Harrington borrows from David Edgar, Trevor Nunn and John Caird's Nicholas Nickleby here, having his actors speak, in character, the narration for each role they take. It's brilliantly effective in preparing us for the breathtaking, breakneck storytelling to come.

For this is quite a story! In Act One we follow the oldest of the Karamazov Brothers, Dmitry, through an amazing two days during which he travels through his village trying to raise 3,000 rubles (which he needs to pay a debt to Katerina, the woman who is devotedly in love with him, having squandered money she entrusted to him a month ago on Grushenka, the woman he loves). Eventually Dmitry arrives at his father's house, where he accidentally wounds a servant with a brass pestle; he then follows Grushenka to the nearby town of Mokroye, where she has apparently eloped with a Polish army officer who was her first lover; here, after Dmitry recklessly gambles away some of his money, Grushenka realizes that she loves him and him alone. (There's also an interlude in which a band of gypsies turns up to sing and dance!) Just as Dmitry and Grushenka begin to plan their life together, a magistrate arrives, charging Dmitry with the murder of his father earlier that night.

A life—as Lady Bracknell once observed under different circumstances—crowded with incident. There's absolutely a soap opera quality to the proceedings, and Harrington's unabashed by it: the story just keeps spinning on and on, dense and complicated and strange, as compelling as life itself.

In the second act, we spend time with Dmitry's younger half-brothers. Ivan, the elder of the two, is a sometime writer and philosopher who has become consumed by guilt, believing that his own pronouncement (in Part I, "If there is no God, everything is permitted") has somehow led to his father's murder. Alexei, the younger brother, pursues his spiritual calling by tending to the dying son of one of his father's servants, while also striving to save Dmitry from conviction and Ivan from himself. Dmitry's trial takes up most of the final act, bringing the evening to a riveting and then rousing conclusion.

Harrington touches upon the big themes that concerned Dostoyevsky, especially the question of the existence of God and the implications of any answer to that question; there's a finely wrought dream sequence in the second act in which Ivan converses with the Devil and considers the concepts of faith, morality, and freedom. We get caught up in both the storytelling and the philosophy.

Harrington's adaptation and direction represent theatre artistry at its finest; miraculously mounted on an off-off-Broadway budget, it relies on the audience's imagination where production values falter, and on the sheer sweep of its director's prodigious ingenuity for the rest. The design, by Rebecca J. Bernstein (costumes) and Tony Penna (sets and lighting), is simple but wondrously vivid; music, selected and performed by Tamara Volskaya and Anatoly Trofimov, is splendidly evocative (though often opposite in temperament to the action).

The actors do outstanding work, with especially vivid portrayals turned in by Stafford Clark-Price as Ivan, Christopher Pollard Meyer as Alexei, Jim Iseman III as the servant Smerdyakov, Margo Skinner as a rich widow named Madame Khokhalakova, George Morafetis as a penniless old man called Maximov, Antony Cataldo as a curious youth named Kolya, and Steven L. Barron and J.M. McDonnough as the opposing lawyers at Dmitry's trial. (Know that though I single these folks out, everyone in the company is to be commended for the energy and variety of their performances.)

In a sane world, this show would be running on Broadway. It's not; there are eight more performances at La MaMa and then, that will be that, at least for now. I advise you not to wait until sanity manages to take hold: if you love theatre, you owe yourself a rich, rewarding, and—yes—long evening with Alexander Harrington's The Brothers Karamazov.

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