“Juggling and cheap theatrics” have always been the stock in trade of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, five very talented fellows who are fond of noting that they are neither brothers nor Russian. Last season, under the direction of Robert Woodruff, these “new vaudevillians” expanded their horizons to include acting in an extravagant, free-wheeling production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre (a production which is being revived for this summer’s L.A. Olympic Arts Festival). And now, they’re doing it again.
The Goodman is once more the site of a collaboration between Woodruff and the Karamazovs, who now tackle Dumas’ best-known novel , in a production entitled The Three Moscowteers. In an adaptation by Karamazov Paul Magid, the swash-buckling tale is set in Russia in the 1920s. Why Russia in the 1920s? Explains Woodruff, “It is a little known fact that the Russian army at that time contained a small band of variety performers who specialized in offbeat, agitprop material. The Karamazovs are basing their personae on these performers, and the central characters then become Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.”
Though Woodruff insists that the work is “decidedly theatre,” and not just a variety act, he adds that the working process is somewhat different from more conventional plays. “We started with a script and as much structure as possible—but then we left a lot to the performers’ particular skills.” He describes the way in which company members would throw out ideas, looking for the proper response from the others. “We were trying to decide how to do the swordfight and someone suggested rubber swords. No one laughed. Then someone else sais, ‘how about swordfish?’ and everyone laughed. We went with the swordfish.”
The Karamazovs have not given up their variety act, but according to Woodruff, working on plays presents them with a “new stretch, a challenge.” And, can they act? “Oh, yes.”
In addition to the Karamazovs, The Three Moscowteers includes a host of performers—15 from last year’s Comedy of Errors plus five more. Fifteen members of the cast are proficient jugglers, 12 are musicians, and “everyone sings,” adds Woodruff. The play runs June 1-July 8.