The Flying Karamazov Brothers (Timothy Daniel Furst, Randy Nelson, Paul David Magid and Howard Jay Patterson), at the Round House Theatre tonight through Sunday; then at Arena Stage's Old Vat Room, Sept. 23 through Oct. 19.
Direct from the Ural Mountains (by way of Sausalito), The Flying Karamazov Brothers have swept into the capital of the Free World.
Now Western audiences can see for themselves these lineal descendants of the wags and mountebanks who entertained Genghis Khan and his wife Rita Hayworth. All the ancient traditions and here: the terror trick; the flaming-audience trick; oral-gami, "the art of folding the spoken word"; the famous routine of splitting a Big Mac with a meat cleaver; and the venerable art of cat juggling.
How does one describe the Flying Karamazovs? How does one describe a Spanish omelet on a misty night? There are the raw data. The names. Fyodor, Alyosha, Dmitri and Ivan. The occupations: juggling, jesting, telling tall tales, assaulting children and infants without cause.
There are the artistic influences: Dostoevski, Chico Marx, Luis Tiant, to mention only the obvious. There is the ancient native costume; The three-cornered black velour hat, the black turtleneck, the black kung-fu pantaloons, and (variety being the spice of life) the occasional knob-nose and kimono.
But how can such a crude inventory convey the centuries of rigorous living, the constant devotion to one's craft, the ruthless inbreeding that go into creating a family like this? The Flying K's have lit up the Washington sky like nothing since that British expedition that passed through here in the War of 1812.
Their current agenda includes not only the exotic rituals of their ancestors but such crowd-pleasing fare as the Apple Trick, in which a fruit of that species is simultaneously juggled and digested. "The apple trick has attained a popularity far beyond what it deserves," one of the brothers complains, "but it seems to be what the people want, and the audience is always right -- customarily." (Just in case the audience might be wrong, the brothers have dressed up this old standby with addition of two hatchets to the list of juggled items, in lieu of more apples.)
Among the less edible but no less noteworthy acts on the bill, we have a Karamazov under the alias Paolo Barechesto ("animal to friends") who juggles two live cats, named Wow and Flutter, plus a stuffed acquaintance of theirs called Mr. Rabbit. "But please, ladies and gentlemen, don't worry," says Paolo as he plucks this fearsome threesome from their traveling-box. "There is no danger to myself."
But the Karamazovs are no strangers to danger. Witness their "every man for himself" improvisational routine, in which objects are thrown at him who least expects them; another number in which they juggle an operating chainsaw; and the (perhaps) high point of of the evening, the Terror Trick, involving the traditional nine "terror objects" -- to wit, meat cleaver, smoking hatchet, flaming torch, sickle, egg, frying pan, Champagne bottle, rubber fish and ukulele (identified as "Shaun Cassidy's first instrument")
But if these menacing items do not sufficiently impress you, the Flying Karamazovs invite you to bring your own. If it's smaller than a breadbox, the K's will give it a juggle. And as Newton pointed out, what goes up may, possibly, stand a chance of coming down, eventually.