"Catch!"is a Flying Karamazov Brothers retrospective, made up of favorite pieces from over twenty years of performance. That means it offers something familiar to please anyone who has ever seen them, and a great opportunity for others to catch up on this unique blend of astonishing juggling, cheap theatrics, audience participation, improvisation and general antic amusement.
I think a good part of what makes this troupe so appealing is their ability to make everything they do seem so off-handed, only "kinda-hard" and very cool. They're like that kid you knew in the neighborhood who could do some really great trick, and with that made you forgive everything else dweeby about him.
These guys have perfected their personas. Of course, being brothers, being Russian, flying - all that is another wink of the eye. Their characters are both specific and generic. Dmitri (Paul Magid) the big, boisterous exhibitionist, while Ivan (Howard Jay Patterson) is the rather quieter technician, looking a bit like some character from "Crime and Punishment" by way of Alice's looking glass. Alexei (Mark Ettinger) seems more like a denizen of Berkeley who's working on his fourth major and will never graduate. Finally, Pavel (Roderick Kimball) is the kid, perpetually amused and mischievous, a Sorceror's Apprentice who really can manage all those dancing brooms.
While they clearly use well-honed set-pieces and practiced bits and dialogue, there is also a wonderful sense that they just say anything that comes into their minds. While it's obvious that they are always fully conscious of themselves as performers, they also manipulate the audience to create an illusion that the event is spontaneous and as much of a surprise to them as to anyone else.
And then there's the juggling itself. They begin with six sharpened sickles flying through the air, and over the course of the evening they toss the predictable Indian clubs, balls and oddly shaped objects. During their famous "challenge the champ" business, they attempt to juggle practically anything the audience might come up with. The night I saw them it was a carton of raw eggs, a slinky and a chain. At one point the four jugglers had 16 clubs in the air at one time. Technically, awe-inspiring, but mostly really cool. As good as all this may be, purely as juggling, it also has a peculiar cumulative effect. With no limit on what one is likely to see in the air at any given time, the air becomes a new and uncharted element, a place more akin to Salvador Dali than Isaac Newton. In a subtly emancipating way, the stage becomes a place where all the rules of the physical universe are temporarily suspended. With the additional freedom of their humor and the simple desire to please and entertain, it becomes an almost surreal, transcendent event. And, did I mention, they do very cool tricks?
"Catch!" is nothing but fun. You can go for the expertise, for the comedy, for the sense of community, for the goofy characters, for the gimmicks and challenges, or just because you've heard about them and want to see for yourself. Regardless of the reason, I think you'll leave the theatre delighted, astonished, full of good humor and more than a little skeptical of the alleged "force" of gravity.
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