Cut-down 'Karamazov' keeps big ideas intact
by Hedy Weiss
Lookingglass team has Dostoyevsky down
In "The Brothers Karamazov" -- director Heidi Stillman's spare, sinewy Lookingglass Theatre stage adaptation of the great 19th century Russian novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky -- two early sound cues signal the major themes of the story. From within a shabby house come screams suggesting a drunken brawl or some sort of bloody domestic violence. They are quickly followed by the redemptive beauty and calm of church chimes.
Like Dostoyevsky's story, this world premiere production gives us evidence of the corrupt, sinful, brutal nature of man, while at the same time bringing us face-to-face with the human impulses that strive for a higher spiritual and moral way of life. The fearsome tension between these drives is stark and elemental, yet is never reduced to a simple battle between good and evil. In fact, the war being waged is more often than not a fiercely internal one -- a fight to the death played out within a single psyche.
The Karamazovs are not a happy family. The patriarch, Fyodor (Craig Spidle, seething and sensational) is a vulgarian -- a volatile alcoholic and lech who compensates for an inferiority complex by acting like a buffoon. His oldest son, Dmitri (Joe Sikora, ideally impulsive and very believably "reborn"), is a chip off the old block -- debauched and violent, and a passionate but unreliable seducer. And this likeness only exacerbates the enmity between him and his old man.
Dmitri's brothers are equally twisted. Ivan (Philip R. Smith in a cagily incisive, richly nuanced turn) is the intellectual and cynic, decrying the existence of God as he enumerates the horrors of this world, while the Christlike Alyosha (Doug Hara, with a sweetness and light that is entirely real) futiley strives for peace and harmony, love and forgiveness. Their warped bastard sibling, more servant than "son," is Smerdyakov (Lawrence Grimm in a brilliantly limned portrayal), both fearfully subservient and burningly resentful.
The women here are equally distinctive. Louise Lamson is riveting as Katerina, Dmitri's seemingly genteel but fearsome wife, whose manipulativeness reflects the pain of her betrayal. And Chaon Cross is all lusty energy as the sexy, independent Grushenka who drives both Dmitri and his father beyond madness.
Maury Cooper is the essence of quiet wisdom and humanity as Father Zossima, Alyosha's mentor. Steve Key is touching as a pained, despairing father. And Eva Barr offers deft comic relief.
Working with designers Dan Ostling, Mara Blumenfeld, Chris Binder, Ray Nardelli and composer Rick Sims, Stillman has streamlined Dostoyevsky's novel yet deftly highlighted its major religious, moral and philosophical arguments while capturing the near hallucinatory heat of its snowy landscape. There are definite lulls during the show's three hours, but there also are real souls to reckon with.
Â© Copyright Chicago Sun-Times