The Flying Karamazov Brothers
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 7, 2010
The Flying Karamazov Brothers used to call what they do "cheap theatricks," but of course their beautiful and deeply thought-out juggling routines are anything but: they elevate juggling to an authentic artform. 4Play, their current theatre piece, offers a delightful introduction to the troupe if you've not seen them before, and though many of the component parts are familiar to FKB fans, they're still fun to see once again on the NYC stage.
The Brothers—who of course are not brothers at all, but rather four inordinately talented men whose stage personas bear Russian names, after Dostoevsky—include group co-founder Paul Magid, still astonishingly spry and limber after nearly four decades pursuing his craft; Mark Ettinger, the most musical of a very musical quartet; Rod Kimball, the eccentric one, called the "juggling czar" in the program; and Stephen Bent, whose delightful program bio indicates that he is younger by a decade or more than the FKB franchise. The guileless joy he takes in being on stage with his idols is perhaps the most endearing part of the show.
As for the show, well, it's a hundred (or so) minutes of juggling so masterful and impressive that you sometimes feel you must be watching the enhanced, corrected video version rather than the live, miraculously practiced-to-perfection performance that is indeed unfolding on stage. There are several unadorned bits, including the witty opening sequence, where the Brothers keep pins in the air with astonishing grace and speed. And then there are the signature bits: one that opens the second act involving balls bounced on the ground and on a table to create a gorgeous percussive song; one that pits Magid against the most diabolical audience members, who supply obtuse items for him to keep in the air for a count of ten (at the performance attended, the three volunteered objects were a soggy pineapple, a kid's dragon doll, and a cheese grater); one called "Terror" that involves dangerous objects such as a meat cleaver, a flaming torch, a bottle of champagne, and an egg; and my particular favorite, the Jazz number, in which the four jugglers improvise with flying pins the way a musical quartet improvises on reeds and brass.
In between there are musical numbers both serious and silly and plenty of pun-filled banter. 4 Play isn't exactly interactive, but the kid-filled audience drew plenty of response from the Brothers at the matinee I was at; and the genuinely awed and thrilled reactions of the small fry to the remarkable feats performed by FKB were, I think, appreciated as much by the rest of the audience as by the guys on stage.
The set, by the Brothers themselves, is ingeniously simple and complicated at the same time. Susan Hilferty's costumes—kilts accessorized both elegantly and outlandishly—are fun. David Hutson's lighting serves the piece perfectly; ditto Doug Elkins's choreography and the musical compositions of Doug Wieselman, Howard Patterson, and Ettinger.
4Play is a welcome addition to the summer theatre scene (and may well stick around into the fall and winter; why not?). Juggling doesn't get any better than this.