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A CurtainUp Review

I bet we are the only jugglers who know the lyrics to this one. — one of the Flying Karamazov Brothers (as an aside while they are furiously juggling their tenpins and simultaneously singing with full voices Brunhilda's screaming aria "Ride of the Valkyrie" from Wagner's Die Valkyrie.
Mark Ettinger and Paul Magi
As you can guess from the above quote, The Flying Karamazov Brothers are not your conventional jugglers. Despite the frequent and frenzied displays of juggling, including some objects that glow in the dark, they are essentially versatile comedians. Most importantly for our pleasure, they seem to be having fun and enjoying themselves, their facial expressions alone providing a script in itself. They are also first-rate musicians and clowns and (forgive the stretch) dancers.

All this is to say that they deliver a brief, fast-moving show that delights us with their penchant for inventive playfulness. Audience participation, particularly from the children, is encouraged, even obligatory. Evidently 4Play didn't wear out its welcome, as it has returned for an open-ended run following a limited engagement last winter.

The zany virtuosity of The Four Flying Karamazov Brothers (with no apologies to Dostoyevsky), as portrayed by Paul Magid (Dmitri), Mark Ettinger (Alexei), Roderick Kimball (Pavel), Stephen Bent (Zossima) is not to be overlooked. And that includes the scenic design of their own making, and that looks a bit suspiciously like my own scary collection of cardboard boxes that continues to climb ominously higher and higher in our cellar. The boxes that litter the stage become integral characters.

The formidable Karamazov apparel (courtesy of Susan Hilferty) is notable for the distinctive black kilts that otherwise in no way suggest a Scottish connection. There is, however, an Appalachian clog dance as performed by Polish Appalachian hillbillies. (don't ask). You could say there is even a French-Russian connection. Again there is no apology forthcoming to the famous choreographer Marius Petipa as the brothers perform a mini-mock Swan Lake ballet (not quite sur les pointes) with more unconventional attitudes (in ballet lingo) than they can shamelessly shake off in their billowing white tutus.

A delightful Dixieland band medley shows off the brothers instrumental talent, and reaches its dexterous peak as they manage to play – – – that is finger, press, pluck and strum, each other's instruments while still holding on to their own. A running theme has been devised for the show, the gradual accumulation of what they call "objects of terror. " These include a flaming torch, a skillet, an open dish of dry ice, a ukulele, an axe, a raw egg, and a dead trout (I know I've forgotten something) all of which are destined to get summarily airborne.

If I had to pick my favorite moment, it would be their impressive interpretation of Japanese Taiko drumming, performed on cardboard boxes, one of which, the biggest boom box, gets thoroughly demolished in a great and slam-bang finale. Adults will enjoy the flow and mix of witty asides and corny jokes (the book is mostly credited to Paul Magid) that are delivered in the style of Groucho Marx. My first connection with the Karamazovs was their juggling-filled version of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors in 1987 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. It's good to report that after 23 years,they remain as sublimely silly as ever.

The action and body language, however, are deliberately keyed to prompt loud laughter and a raucous response from the children. Children are invited to bring strange and unlikely objects to the theatre for the brothers to juggle. I've heard that spaghetti and pizzas have been brought to the stage. But at the performance I attended, it was a rather unchallenging collection of toys. If I can quibble a bit: It seems that a 20 minutes intermission is unnecessary for a show that lasts only 95 minutes in length. But then there are all those t-shirts, CDs and programs to sell.

Book by Paul Magid and The Flying Karamazov Brothers 
Directed by Paul Magid

Cast: Paul Magid (Dmitri), Mark Ettinger (Alexei), Roderick Kimball (Paval), Stephen Bent (Zossima)  
Scenic Design: The Flying Karamazov Brothers 
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty 
Lighting Design: David Hutson 
Juggling Czar: Rod Kimball 
Original Music/Music Director: Mark Ettinger
Choreographer: Doug Elkins
Additional original music: Doug Wieselman, Howard Patterson 
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes including intermission 
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane 
(800) 982 – 2787 
Tickets: $20 - $65 
Performances: Wednesday through Saturday at 8 Pm, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 PM and a Sunday evening performance at 5 PM.  
Previews began 07/22/10 
Opened 08/09/10 
Review by Simon Saltzman based on 2 PM performance 08/08/10
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