by Lynn on May 14, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

Based on the novel The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyvsky, adapted by Richard Crane. Directed by David Matheson. Set by Andrea Mittler. Costumes by Ming Wong. Sound/music by Tom Kerr. Lighting by David Matheson. Starring: Ashley Bryant, Melee Hutton, Anita La Selva, Nicole St. Martin.

At Odyssey Studio, 636 Pape Avenue until May 20. Produced by Wordsmyth

Imagine it. The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky’s towering, dense novel of greed, morality, parental animosity jealousy and emotional manipulation, is adapted into a play that is 90 minutes long, called simply Brothers Karamazov, in which all the parts are played by a cast of four actresses. Kind of smacks of gimmickry doesn’t it? Well forget that. This is a fascinating, crackling inventive production by a company called Wordsmyth Theatre.

I saw this in a black box of a room, with straight-backed bridge chairs for the audience and the simplest of sets and didn’t regret missing one second of the beautiful sunshine outside.

Richard Cane has cut the story to its basics but the themes at the heart of the story are there. There is Fyodor Karamazov, the cold father of three sons, Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha, with the possibility of an illegitimate son, Pavel Smerdyakov, who Fyodor employs as a servant.

Dimitri is a womanizer and is always in need of money. Ivan is serious, aloof, stoical, sensitive to the problems of the world and mysterious. Alyosha is innocent, youthful, trusting and looks up to Dmitri. Smerdyakov is watchful, opportunistic and would love to be one of the brothers—little does he know.

Efficiency is the watchword for director David Matheson’s production. Relationships are beautifully established in that small space. The coldness of characters towards each other is cleverly established by positioning them in close proximity. A character standing upstage with ‘his’ expressive back to us is as provocative in establishing his feelings as if he was facing us, in which we see his facial expressions.

The performances are compelling and true. There is no stereotypical “macho acting”—no pulling at the crotch to suggest a character is a boor or a guy. As Dmitri, Melee Hutton uses her smoky voice to great effect. She swaggers slightly. When she sits her bent legs are separated; she slouches forward. This is a dandy performance of a desperate, pushy, anxious man who needs money and is emotionally conflicted. As Ivan, Anita La Selva usually stands apart; is still and watchful which makes him so intriguing and compelling. It’s not the character who is busy with movement that grips us—it’s the person who is still and La Selva uses that stillness wonderfully. As Alyosha Ashley Bryant has all the turmoil of the young who witnesses the damage done to her brothers by a mean, cold father. And as Smerdyakov, Nicole St. Martin is bitter, conniving, and dangerous.

The production begins with what sounds like a mournful folk song, begun by Ashley Bryant and joined by the other three actresses. It’s beautiful and intoxicating. At the end of the show, after the bows, the cast leaves by the back door going into blazing sunlight. The audience does the same with the front door. A perfect ending to a wonderful afternoon in the theatre.

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