| 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 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
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.
FREEDOM TWISTED BY CORRUPT REGIMES
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.