The house (a corner of it, really) keeps right on spinning, though, revealing the same father and women (doing the same things) a few seconds later, surrounded by adult versions of the same little boys years later, also in the same poses. Not surprisingly, all of their fates are likewise thrown into a tailspinand in those opening moments, and others like them, we are entranced by a strong poetic vision brought to the stage.
The show also seems much shorter than its three-and-a-half hour runing time, thanks mainly to playwright and director Heidi Stillman, who managed the transformation from Dostoevsky's 1881 novel. Next in the honor roll comes Joe Sikora as Dmitri, retaining his humanity in spite of wildly self-destructive passions and his endless clashes with his father (Mr. Spindle). Philip R. Smith is Ivan: dour and funny in the early going, but slowly driven horrifyingly, staggeringly mad. Great as he is, though, Mr. Smith often seemed to be "counting the house" the night that I attendedthe only thing that undercut an otherwise unforgettable performance. And Doug Hara is the priestly brother Alyosha, gracefully carrying the banner of socialism, some 26 years before the end of Imperial Russia, by declaring that we are all "guilty for one another."
Lawrence Grimm catches our eye from the very first as a character of grand Dickensian proportions, in a seemingly minor role. Another notable "spin" of the Karamazov house reveals his own miserable plight (as Smerdyakov, the servant), being the butt of cruel stories told by the elder Karamazov. And Steve Key is deeply tragic as a former army captain, living a life of endless anguish. Throughout, the texture is pure Russian, allowing plenty of room for both naturalism and colorful caricature.
Humor comes not just from Mr. Smith as the laconic Ivan, but also from Eva Barr (Mrs. Kolklakov), as a sort of henna-haired Aunt Pittypat, delivering a continual comic lament. Her fears partly concern the outrageous wanderings of Dmitri and the frustrations of his fiancé Katerina, played by Louise Lamson. She's pitted against Grushenka, an unapologetic opportunist who goes from man to man, played by Chaon Cross as lovely as a young Valerie Perrine. And though she contains her self amazingly for the first two acts, Ms. Lamson's final testimony (after all Dmitri's infidelities) is explosive. Every moment from the shocking conclusion of act two, to the end of the third act, is gripping.
Playwright/Director Stillman finds a hundred ways of telling all their stories, from the always struggling Dmitri, with his needlessly challenging exits (climbing up a tall ladder), to a scene by a child's grave, where Captain Snegiryov reaches unbearable depths of grief. Maury Cooper lends a spiritual mystique to the role of Father Zossima, who first hears the complaints by the three brothers against their father, and easily persuades us of his god-like power of insight into each man's soul. It probably all sounds too dark in this short-hand description, but it's far more than that.
Through December 21st, 2008 at the historic Chicago Water Tower Water Works, 821 North Michigan Ave., at Pearson. Note that evening shows begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (312) 337-0665, or visit them online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
Photo: Sean Williams