What do a deranged translator, a butler named Ernest Hemingway and an actor – sawed in half yet somehow miraculously retaining his acting ability – have in common?
They all take center stage in the wildly farcical “The Idiots Karamazov.” Written by Christopher Durang and Albert Innaurato, the play opens tonight at the Michigan League’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theater at 8 p.m.
The comedy was created in 1974 when Durang and Innaurato were graduate students studying theater and drama at Yale. Having recently taken a Russian literature class, the duo discovered that almost all the great Russian works (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, etc.) were translated by the same women. The two aspiring playwrights decided to pen a satirical play based on the translator.
Throughout the play, Duran and Innaurato incorporate classic literary figures such as Anais Nin into the oddball comedy, with a host of literary allusions. Of course, all of the brothers Karamazov from Dostoevsky’s immortal work are also present to create the delightfully idiosyncratic world that is “The Idiots Karamazov.”
The play follows Constance Garnett, a feeble-minded translatrix (literary translator). At the beginning of the play, she has difficulty translating the Russian classic “The Brothers Karamazov.” Also onstage are characters who perform the story as she translates it.
As Garnett’s translations of Dostoevsky’s text begin to falter, the characters acting out the contents of the novel are forced to follow Constance’s woeful misinterpretation. Then, as Constance’s insanity becomes more pronounced, she begins to add other famous characters from a wide range of works into her version of “The Brothers Karamazov.”
In “The Idiots Karamazov,” Durang and Innaurato poke fun at concepts ranging from the hypocrisy of Catholicism to the domination common to Western literature.
Although it may seem at first glance that only ultra-sophisticated academics will be able to understand the countless literary references and subtle jokes, the play promises to be entertaining for audiences of all types. Director and LSA senior Kate Hutchens, who has stage-managed numerous Rude Mechanicals productions, said an audience member who doesn’t pick up on one or two of the literary references will still find much to enjoy about the play.
“I think that the play will deliver laughs for everyone,” Hutchens said.
She said she hoped that, if nothing else, a befuddled audience member would go away saying, “I don’t know what the hell that was – but it was funny.”
Produced by the student theater group Rude Mechanicals, “The Idiots Karamazov” should be a change of pace and build off the success of their last production, “Macbeth.” “The Idiots Karamazov” promises to be an entertaining rendition of a play that manages to fit a combination of songs, literature and cultural criticism into a unique play as relevant today as it is enjoyable.
The Idiots Karamazov
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the Mendelssohn Theatre