Featuring: Paul Magid (Dmitri), Harry "Boom Boom Sweets" Levine (Kuzma), Chen Pollina (Chenovski) and Kiyota Sage (Kiyotov)
When: February 15 through February 24, 2013.
Where: San Jose Repertory, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose
Tickets: $36-$74 (Student and specialty discounts available). Visit San Jose Rep tickets or call 408-367-7255.
Visit The Flying Karamazov Brothers website.
Read John Orr's interview of Flying Karamazov Brothers co-founder Paul Magid.
Watch a cellphone video of The Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling fire outside the theater on Saturday night.
It's not being marketed as such, but "40 Years of Wandering, Juggling, and Cheap Theatrics," the new Flying Karamazov Brothers show playing at San Jose Rep, has to be thought of as a show in development.
Maybe as a show that is still work-shopping, despite the full ticket prices.
It has great elements, true -- how could it not, drawing as it does on the story of this fabulous group of entertainers? -- but it is in need of editing, rewrites and re-direction. Written by co-founder Paul Magid, "40 Years" starts with Magid's childhood and just keeps going, through his life in high school, college and as a beginning juggler, and the notable success of The Flying Karamazov Brothers on stage, on TV and in movies.
Too much of this show is the charming Magid standing behind a podium, reading from his script. Too little of this show is actually people juggling or otherwise doing skits. A good script-writer's rule is "Don't tell; show."
But in this show, Magid talks and talks and talks. It's a lecture on the history of The Flying Karamazov Brothers. The audience should be getting class credits.
Thankfully, there are fun bits, from time to time, including the "pre-show," which happened outside the San Jose Rep before start time, when the four brothers -- Magid (Dmitri), Harry "Boom Boom Sweets" Levine (Kuzma), Chen Pollina (Chenovski) and Kiyota Sage (Kiyotov) -- came out and relived their street-busking past by juggling torches for the ticket-buyers, passing couples and families, skateboarders and homeless people.
That was pretty neat, because these guys are, in fact, stars. To see them out on the street again was really a treat. (See a shaky cellphone video.
Once the ticket-buyers moved back into the theater -- sadly, only about half-filled on Saturday night-- the show began with Magid and Pollina running through the aisles and leaping onto the stage for some impressive juggling and humor.
Then the lecture began.
And, if you are a fan of The Flying Karamazov Brothers, it is somewhat entertaining, and has lots of funny, clever idiosyncrasies. For instance -- if I am interpreting correctly -- Magid, possibly to make the show more G-rated, doesn't talking about having casual sex or using drugs. He talks about "wearing hats" and "wearing glasses."
He would talk about the troupe visiting Minnesota, where there were many fabulous hats to be worn. And how author Ken Kesey had given him a great pair of glasses before a show with The Grateful Dead, and how it became a problem that the glasses didn't wear off for eight hours after the show, and that he backed the troupe's bus into Jerry's new car, and that Jerry, who was wearing glasses beyond anything Magid could ever wear, called him an asshole.
The saving grace of this long lecture is that Magid and The Flying Karamazov Brothers are charming, and after a while a kind of family vibe took over.
It became not so much a show in a theater as a family gathering in the big living room, with our nutty Uncle Paul and his wild friends regaling us with stories. Some of the audience-participation stuff was fun.
They dragged a guy up out of the audience to play the part of actor Danny DeVito in the movie "The Jewel of the Nile," in which The Flying Karamazov Brothers appeared.
But it took forever to get to the pay-off in the skit, which is when the audience member has to just stand there while juggled swords went flashing around him. He blinked when the big blades went right past his face.
But before that, there was a lot of dialogue-heavy nonsense about film-making. Some of it was cute, some of it was tedious.
The biggest audience-participation skit was truly annoying at first, but again had a fun pay-off. The four brothers donned colorful fright wigs and leather coats and pretended to be Nazi creeps who went out into the audience and screamed at people, herding a large portion of the audience toward the back of the theater. That was not fun.
During that part of the bit, the only fun was watching Pollina run along the narrow audience wall that separates sections.
But while that was going on, bags of chunks of foam rubber were distributed. After a huge cannon on stage, firing a dummy brother into the wings, the herded audience members rushed the stage, throwing foam rubber chunks at the bad guys.
That was fun. Sitting in the front row, I was hit from behind several times.
Throughout the long show -- which began before the advertised start of 8 p.m. with the busking, and ended at 10:35 p.m. -- there were stories, slide shows and interesting archival video. A nice clip from "The Comedy of Errors," for instance, one of their most successful efforts, and during intermission we saw commercials they'd made for paper products that were amusing. There are elements of what could be a great show in "40 Years." I hope Magid digs that great show out of this in-progress work.
By the way, for those of you who will be going to the show, remember to bring stuff for the brothers to juggle during The Challenge. Magid's mother brought a box of corn flakes with the top partially torn off, which made for a pleasing mess, but nobody else in the audience had, which led to a purse being searched for a hair brush and a couple of people throwing their shoes on the stage. And a Cinemax program. The box of corn flakes led to the downfall of Sage, who received a pie in the face for his trouble.