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November 18, 1987 - Image 59

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-11-18

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The Jocular Jugglers
The Flying Karamazovs pitch pies, pins and puns

For the first time all night the stage is
quiet. Quiet, that is, except for the
sound of 15 Indian clubs swishing
1 through the air. As the clubs dance faster
and faster in the juggling equivalent of
a jam sesssion, the Flying Karamazov
Brothers improvise tosses while trying to
maintain an intricate rhythm. For a few
transfixing moments, chaos and order co-
exist. Finally, the rotation gets out of
hand-literally: most of the clubs crash to
the stage. But Smerdyakov Karamazov is
unfazed. "OK," he says, not missing a beat.
"Now let's try the one where we don't drop
them." In a moment, the five giggling Kar-
amazovs are at it again. "A lot of the time
-the audience doesn't have time to laugh at
us," says Alyosha Karamazov. "We've
cracked up already."
Audience and actors have been laughing
together for more than a decade. The Fly-
ing Karamazov Brothers-they chose the
name because it sounded classy, even
though they don't take to the air and are
neither Russian nor related-began when
theater buffs Paul David Magid (Dmitri)
and Howard Jay Patterson (Ivan) lived
across the hall from each other at the Uni-
versity of California, Santa Cruz, in the
early 1970s. The pair, soon joined by Randy
Nelson (Alyosha), Timothy Daniel Furst
(Fyodor) and Sam Williams (Smerdyakov),
performed at Renaissance fairs and clubs
on the West Coast. They gradually earned
an underground reputation in the late '70s
through experimental stage shows at re-
gional theaters such as the Guthrie in Min-
neapolis and the Goodman in Chicago.
The group's career and reputation for
organized anarchy never stopped growing.
An Obie-winning off-Broadway run, tours
and an appearance in the film "Jewel of the
Nile," as Sufi warriors who juggled flaming
torches around Danny DeVito, helped
build their name. In the past four years
they've made three appearances on Broad-
way, and they now tour all but six weeks of
the year. Earlier this month they appeared
on Dolly Parton's ABC variety show; next
month comes a guest spot on an HBO spe-
cial, "Live From Planet Earth." CBS and
the Disney channel are discussing series
and specials, and in January the troupe
will film its current roadshow, "Juggle &
Hyde," as a movie.
Why the popularity, considering the fact
that many people can't stand jugglers for
more than 15 minutes, let alone jugglers
Controlled chaos: Brothers K at play

who seem to enjoy a miss or three? Per-
haps it's the appealing honesty of these
jesters. "Blown juggling is funny," says
Magid. "You're not hiding anything." Be-
yond that, wordplay forms a big part of
their shtik; terrible puns and bad jokes
abound. (How bad? "Meat cleaver," Ivan
says, pausing before tossing the instru-
ment in the air. "Cleaver, audience ..."
Get it?) The skits are scripted, but most of
the planned repartee is adapted to the audi-
ence, location and current headlines.
"We're in live performance," says Nelson.
"So what works, works."
It's suprajuggling: Although most people
know them as jugglers, the Brothers K say
they're more than a circus act-suprajug-
gling, not superjuggling. "It's always been
our idea that what we're doing is theater,"
says Magid. The group has juggled to
Shakespearean verse in their version of
"The Comedy of Errors" in Chicago and at
New York's Lincoln Center. "We were
looking for a theatrical piece that allowed
us to use our sensibilities of zaniness,"
says Williams. The quintet is sometimes
didactic. In one sketch everyone wears
costumes rigged to make musical sounds
as they toss and catch-Ivan looks like an
electrified Rasputin-to show the bonds of

juggling patterns and musical timing.
But when you come right down to it, one
fact remains: these guys can juggle. Any-
thing. Their signature piece involves a
challenge between the audience and Ivan.
He, as "The Champ," claims that he can
juggle, for 10 counts, any three objects the
audience can throw up on the stage, as long
as they're heavier than an ounce, lighter
than 10 pounds and no bigger than a bread-
box. "The Champ will not juggle live ani-
mals," their program reads, "or anything
that would prevent the Champ himself
from continuing to be a live animal." Suc-
cess, achieved about 70 percent of the time,
brings a standing ovation; failure, a vaude-
villian pie in the face.
Over the years the Champ has struggled
with dirty diapers, dead fish, boomerangs
and open gallons of milk. His favorite com-
bination: a plate of spaghetti, a chocolate-
cream pie and a bag of dead frogs. Fans
come deviously prepared, and stagehands
have been known to concoct off-balance
devices and bring them on from the wings.
The stage moment is the essence of theater:
no two challenges-and, hence, perform-
ances-will ever be the same, and audience
interaction is a guiding principle. "What
we do is more risk than danger," says Nel-
son. "It's the difference between crossing a
street in New York City and walking along
a highway." Whether they're calculated or
just crazy, the Flying Karamazov Brothers
have proven that, with a touch of light
theater, juggling can indeed be main-
stream entertainment.


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