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Theater Review: The Brothers Karamazov

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If your father is a loud-mouthed, womanizing boozer, who has fathered children indiscriminately, what kind of man would you become? Fyodor Dostoevsky doesn’t believe that the sins of the father necessarily condemn a man to repeat the same mistakes with the same fate.

Within this story of patricide is the theme of spiritual redemption. The murder doesn’t occur until we come to know about the father, Fyodor. Anthony Clarvoe’s adaptation completely cuts off the first of 12 books. When we first meet Fyodor (John Getz), we dislike him. Getz is a large man with a ruddy complexion. As Fyodor, he is overloud and loose-limbed–he is too large for any confined space and intrudes into everybody’s space without a second thought. Society and its niceties are too constricting for his appetites. Entering the monastery accompanied by his servant, Smerdyakov (Doug Sutherland), to be heard before Father Zosima (Kevin Fabian), he sees his sons, all together at last.

His second eldest son, Ivan (Colin Doty), is a journalist filled with discontent and repressed anger. A product of Fyodor’s second marriage, Ivan is a rationalist and an atheist who wants to believe in God, but cannot understand why there is senseless suffering in the world. He remains in contact with his father despite his unexpressed hatred.

They wait for the eldest son, Dmitri (Paul Witten), a soldier whose mother was wealthy and now demands his inheritance. When Dmitri arrives, we learn more about Fyodor’s repellent personality and his relationship with women–mostly his relationship with the mothers of his children.

Physically, Witten most resembles Getz. Dmitri’s and Fyodor’s problems are similar–open about their feelings and both in love and lust for the same woman, Grushenka (Rebecca Avery). Dmitri is supposedly engaged to the kindly and respectful Katya (Jamey Hood).

Fyodor’s youngest son, Alyosha (Max Faugno), is a religious novitiate, seeking sanctuary from the chaotic life at home which causes him to have screaming fits. Quiet, darkly handsome, Faugno expresses a somber, reflective strength as someone trying to be good in a world that is so obviously bad.

Eventually, because of his openly expressed anger and an actual assault on his father, Dmitri is immediately suspected, yet there’s something suspicious about Smerdyakov’s exchange with Ivan just prior to Fyodor’s death. Clarvoe’s adaptation cuts through much of the dense philosophical contemplations of Dostoevsky, but the clarity of the spiritual quest remains.

Despite the seriousness of this three-act play, director John Langs finds both humor and pathos. There’s a sly bitchy humor in Kevin Fabian’s portrayal of Rakitin, a fellow monk. Avery’s Grushenka has moments of delicious wickedness in her playing with men’s feelings until she finds herself trapped by her own affections.

This Circle X production is fiercely intelligent and wonderfully staged on Brian Sidney Bembridge’s two-level set that looks like a deserted urban building, complete with Russian graffiti on the walls. If you ever doubt the ability of small theater groups to make magic, this production will make you a believer.

The Brothers Karamazov, a Circle X production at the [Inside] the Ford Theatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., East, Hollywood, CA 90068. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $20. ( 213) 804-5491

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