Review: Brothers Karamazov (Wordsmyth Theatre)

A powerful all-female cast and artful use of the Odyssey Studio make for a great interpretation of the Brothers Karamazov

My mom and I went to see the all-female cast of Brothers Karamazov Saturday evening at the Odyssey Studio at 636 Pape Avenue. Once we located the venue and settled into our seats we realized that we had no idea of what was to come. (I have zero background in the works of Mr. Dostoevski, save that I’ve heard he’s kind of a big deal – don’t shoot me! Ask anyone else associated with theatre or literature and they will provide a deeper understanding than my meagre Wikipedia browsing here.) This excellent production of Brothers Karamazov thoroughly impressed us both and we would recommend it without hesitation to anyone – classical theatre aficionado or not.

Odyssey Studio is a tiny venue with double as much stage as audience area. There couldn’t have been more than 20 folding chairs to sit on while the rest of the room stretched lengthwise in front of us without wings or curtain and a single exit door in the back corner.

Set designer Andrea Mittler artfully took full advantage of the space, lining the walls with distressed barnboard and creating a beautiful surrealist staircase upstage centre which functioned as a pedestal and dressing curtain for the actors. The characterizations of the different personalities were cleverly differentiated both by the stellar performances and by Ming Wong’s simple yet wholly believable costumes.

Transported into the late 19th century world of Russian society, Brothers Karamazov uses song, prose and fine acting to weave an elegant tale which wrestles with many existential unknowns. Working with the highly successful 1981 Richard Crane adaptation, Wordsmyth Theatre director David Matheson took the complicated work one step further and cast four women in roles typically played by men. Having not seen any other versions, I can only say that casting women as brothers further emphasized the universality of familial dysfunction no matter our gender or point in time. The blocking was clear and intentional, and made excellent use of what might otherwise be an awkward space.

The actors were powerhouses, literally shape-shifting before our eyes. Being as close as we were to the performers, there was no margin for error. The cast sparkled as an ensemble, balancing each other perfectly. Melee Hutton blew us away with her portrayal of Dmitri as she waffled between aggressive defiance and fragility next to Anita La Selva’s Ivan as a quiet but rumbling geyser of pent-up emotion. Ashley Bryant’s Alyosha was still and pure in her naive religious burden while Nicole St. Martin chilled us in her portrayal of the conniving servant Smerdyakov.

Big box talent and professionalism in a tiny box of a venue, Brothers Karamazov closes this weekend. Do your best to see this incredible homage to Classical Theatre and to theatre in general.

Details

Brothers Karamazov is playing at Odyssey Theatre 636 Pape Avenue (entrance off of Cavell Avenue) until May 20, 2012

– Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm. There is a matinee at 2pm on May 20.

– Tickets are available online

– Ticket prices are $29