As their previous appearances have abundantly illustrated, The Flying Karamazov Brothers are four variously hirsute screwballs, whose great talent is their apparent lack of it.
They juggle with minimal address, really. They make terrible puns and they engineer prodigious feats of no value whatsoever. They may be performing "cheap theatrics" (their words, not mine), but they approach them with a panache and majesty worthy of Sarah Bernhardt in one of her great death scenes. The blatant contrast between manner and material is what makes for all the fun, of course, and the brothers four stir up a great deal of it in their latest two-hour offering, billed as "Volume 2" or "Welcome to Our Living Room."
If they are an acquired taste, there is good evidence that large numbers of Washingtonians have already acquired it. At Arena's Kreeger Theater, where the quartet, plus two cats and considerably more props than the last go-round, opened a three-week run last night, the audience was clearly primed to talk back, groan at the bad jokes, and toss strange and wondrous objects on stage.
Those objects figure in one of the brothers' standard gambits. If Ivan (Howard Jay Patterson) can keep three of them aloft for 10 seconds, he gets a standing ovation. Otherwise, he gets a "Gilette meringue pie" in the kisser. Last night, he had to juggle a reel of tape, a diaper and an umbrella. He lost.
On the absurd assumption that this kind of madness can be measured, about 50 percent of the material appears held over from earlier outings. The old cat tricks remain in places of honor. Dmitri (Paul David Magid) juggles two cats and a stuffed rabbit, lest you forget, then returns to shoot one of the gallant felines out of a cannon. And there's still plenty of the rhythmic juggling that the Karamazovs like to equate with music -- and who's to stop them.
But this time they've introduced an attic's worth of junk into the show -- a xylophone, bass drums built into the walls of the set, chairs, tables, a tuba and a television set. In general, this allows them to further clutter up an act, which has always depended for its effects on a kind of surrealistic clutter. In particular, it allows them to enact a giant video cassette game, at the end of which Smerdyakov (Samuel Ross Williams) winds up inside the television set itself. (God, I feel like a fool telling you this!)
There's also a lot more chatter than I remember from the last frolic. That some of it is less than inspired gobbledy-gook is probably less important than the fact that the Brothers will not be stopped in their tracks by a clinker or two. The jokes fly almost as fast as the Indian clubs. If you don't like "I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous," how about Theatrical Maxim No. 9, coined by an irate Greek costumer and passed down to the Brothers: "If Euripides, Eumenides." (Say it out loud, for heaven's sake.) There are about 498 others, if you're still not laughing.
Yes, the Karamazov Brothers are sophomoric at times, but they're proudly so. Apparently, they made up their minds a long time ago that their limited performing skills were nothing short of stupendous and they take to the stage with the collective confidence of Barnum and Bailey's greatest stars. Norman Vincent Peale, among others, would approve.
THE FLYING KARAMAZOV BROTHERS, VOLUME 2. With Howard Jay Patterson, Paul David Magid, Samuel Ross Williams, Timothy Daniel Furst. At Arena's Kreeger Theater through Oct. 10.