People's Branch Theatre opens its 2004-05 season this week with Matt Chiorini's stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot. Company artistic director Chiorini begins the new management regime at PBT amid encouraging signsincreased subscriptions and inroads toward corporate sponsorship. "We've never been healthier," he says. "Before, I think PBT set out simply to do something different. Now, we want to do something cool."
PBT has previously mounted works by Beckett, Kafka and C.S. Lewis, always striving to find the essential drama in sprawling intellectual masterpieces, and this ambitious approach toward classic literature remains intact. Dostoevsky's epic 1869 tale of a "holy fool" thrust into a decomposing Russian cultured class will be condensed to a thought-provoking 80-minute entertainment without an intermission.
"We've concentrated on the basic plot," says Chiorini, "but it's a freestyle adaptation. For example, stylized movement is set to music. It's very much a People's Branch show in that it promises surprises. It's The Importance of Being Earnest meets The Cherry Orchard meets Jesus Christ Superstarall those elements converge."
Josh Childs stars as Prince Myshkin, a Christ-like figure whose "teachings" find disfavor among a group of nasty people in a tumultuous time. "There's no crucifixion per se," says Chiorini, "but they destroy him in the end. I like to say that if we'd done this last spring, I'd have marketed it as The Passion of the Christbut funnier and without the blood."
Other cast members include Brandon Boyd, Matthew Carlton, Rona Carter, Jeremy Childs, Misty Lewis, Herbert Parker and Jennifer Richmond. "The characters have been pushed a little toward archetypes," says Chiorini, "but it really is for the benefit of the story, which is about the Prince getting caught in this whirlwind. The more exaggerated and farcical we push the characters, the bigger the jokes, and the more we like Myshkin. I wanted it to sound more like Noel Coward's Hay Fever, with bitchy bons mots and weightless witticisms."
Despite its renewed vigor as a producing organization, PBT still faces some budgetary limitations, and the technical approach for The Idiot will be what Chiorini calls "skeletal creative minimalism." Yet somehow this company seems to thrive on the basic challenge of plot and themenot to mention that pulling vintage pieces out of mothballs and rejuvenating them for the contemporary audience usually spurs worthy theater.
"Myshkin is an amazing character," concludes Chiorini, "and the message here is as timely as it ever was: in these times of chaos, be nice to each other. It's a call for decency and civility and basic human goodness."
The company makes its new start on Sept. 30 at the Belcourt Theatre with a gala opening-night reception catered by Basante's. Performances continue Wednesday through Sunday evenings through Oct. 9. For tickets, call 846-3150.
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I miss Iodine.
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