The stage was full of cardboard boxes as the audience waits for The Flying Karamazov Brothers’ act at The Carolina Theatre of Durham on Saturday, Aug. 1st. Kids in the theater wandered the aisles, excited for the night and curious about the boxes. They talked about the possibilities, wondering whether the brothers will pop out of the boxes or throw them into the audience. “Do you think they’re going to make them disappear?” one little boy asked his sister.
When the brothers wandered onstage and started juggling, the audience realized that this isn’t anywhere near the type of act they had envisioned when they walked into the theater. The boxes were used, but not in the manner anyone thought. The brothers did juggle — and incredibly well — but not the usual objects. And the most surprising of all was that not only were they funny, but they sang, danced, and played musical instruments (though one would have to admit that these four vaudevillian performers won’t be asked to play Carnegie Hall anytime soon).
Though none of the brothers are actually related to each other, they have been together long enough to call each other family. They first performed as a group in 1973, taking their name from the Dostoyevsky novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1880), and playing off that novel’s themes ever since. And there are more than four in the troupe, though four brothers are what one will see on the stage. Saturday night’s brothers — Vanka, Nikita, Pavel, and Dmitri — were actually Steven Horstmann, Andy Sapora, Roderick Kimball, and Paul Magid.
Their humor is slapstick like that of The Three Stooges, only there were four performers and they juggled, danced in tutus, and played various instruments, as well as cracked silly jokes. Their performance is like no other, which is why they have managed to play stages and venues all over the world for the past forty-plus years. Though kids enjoy the performance, there is enough adult humor in the show to keep parents satisfied (and in stitches) as well.
One of the staples of their performance is keeping the audience guessing what is coming up next by adding various unconnected objects to a pile labeled (with a big cardboard sign) “Terror.” The first item is a meat cleaver, which brings moans from the audience. Throughout the evening, other items are added until the total is nine, and the brothers introduce their finale.
The leader of the troupe, Dmitri, is a crazy-eyed, frizzy-gray-ponytail-haired man who is wired for sound and leaps around the stage like a mustached gnome. He (and the three others) appear in kilts, their usual costume, but also don choir gowns and tutus throughout the performance. Dmitri’s booming voice reaches into the far corners of the theater and his bulging eyes remind one of the comedians who rely on facial expressions to spark a laugh. He had no problem getting one from The Carolina Theatre’s audience and easily cajoled audience members sitting near the stage to take part in the performance.
A reminder during the opening moments of the performance resonated throughout the evening. “Juggling is music,” the audience was told. “Everything is done to the count of five.” Through their demonstration of that rhythm, it was obvious that without that inner understanding of following the beat, jugglers would often fail to complete their passes and catches. Audience members found themselves counting the beat throughout the rest of the evening; and when a pass or catch failed, as they did on occasion, we forgave because … well, because it’s difficult to keep up that count while you’re throwing balls, boxes, cleavers, and the usual bowling pins. Try keeping up that count, throwing and catching, while you’re talking, singing, or telling bad jokes. Near impossible, yet horribly funny.
The troupe is better at juggling than playing musical instruments, yet they all do. During the “Hand Jive” (an appropriate song for this performance), they played piano, trumpet, clarinet, and trombone; and later, they performed an imitation of Japanese drums while pounding on those cardboard boxes that have been onstage since the audience filed in.
One of the coolest moments of the evening was when the lights went off and the jugglers’ flying items were colored/lighted balls, perfectly synchronized. Without seeing the brothers’ zany faces and crazy-wild hair, the audience became aware of the impeccable timing these world-renowned jugglers must maintain in order to keep their (ahem) balls in the air.
After intermission, the brothers brought a woman named Phyllis onstage from the audience; and, telling her to stay perfectly still, juggled around, above, and over her, all to the audience’s delight. But their longest and most intense piece of the evening was when they talked about how juggling is like jazz, reliant on the leader/feeder and follower/feedee. It was a lesson in how juggling passes are made and completed; and that lesson lasted a long ten minutes, becoming more and more complicated as the minutes went by. It was then that the audience realized this troupe was not just a bunch of kooky guys in kilts who were having a good time, but a well-synchronized group of talented athletes whose hand-eye coordination is far beyond that of the typical street juggler.
When the nine terror objects were finally revealed and the final moments included juggling a cleaver, a plastic fish, a salt shaker, a bottle of champagne, a lit torch, a ukulele, an egg, and a cube of dry ice, it’s a bit disappointing that the evening is already over. But the audience left the theater with irrepressible kid-like grins on their faces, and realized that they had experienced an act that they might never be able to replicate for the rest of their adult lives.
The Flying Karamazov Brothers regularly perform in Las Vegas and other venues around the world. If you get the chance to see them, don’t sit in the front seats unless you want to be like Phyllis and take the stage with these madcap comedians.
SECOND OPINION: Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 30th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/07/the-zany-juggling-flying-karamazov-brothers-will-play-two-shows-on-aug-1st-at-the-carolina-theatre/.
THE FLYING KARAMAZOV BROTHERS (The Carolina Theatre, Aug. 1st in Fletcher Hall at The Carolina Theatre in Durham).
SHOW: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/events/flying-karamazov-brothers and https://www.facebook.com/events/463710690452413/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS (at bottom of page): http://www.fkb.com/gallery.php.
STAR SERIES: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/events?tid=9.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaTheatreDurham, https://twitter.com/CarolinaDurham, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Theatre.
The Flying Karamazov Brothers (Seattle, WA-juggling and comedy troupe, formed in 1973): http://www.fkb.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/FlyingKaramazovBrothers (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/fkbjugglers (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Flying_Karamazov_Brothers (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.