The Flying Karamazov Brothers were in town recently for the Israel Festival, and I was fortunate to see this classic troupe of comedy jugglers. For the uninitiated, the FKB’s show is a zany combination of juggling, musical instrument playing, terrible puns, and hilarious physical humor and stunts. The Boston Globe got it right when they called it “The Marx Brothers meets the Juilliard String Quartet.”
Before I get into details of the show, I have to say that they really did a commendable job of presenting their highly verbal show to a non English-speaking audience. They made the best of their language skills with 95% Engrew and only a smidgen of poorly pronounced Hebrish, but they always managed to always get the laughs. You could see efforts were made to localize the show and they successfully connected to the audience.
As a long-time rec.juggler, I took pride in seeing two former posters (as in people who post) – Rod Kimball (Pavel) and Stephen Bent (Zossima) – who achieved their dream of becoming Brothers. They joined Brother Mark Ettinger (Alexei) and founding Brother Paul David Magid (Dmitri) in a highly polished display of skills. Basically, this is a local boys make good story (hey, I may live thousands of miles away from them, but online with rec.juggling everyone’s local, right?). Yes, I knew them when…
The curtains opened to a stage set with many dozens of cardboard boxes piled high in stacks around the floor. In one of the first routines they played percussion on different sized boxes with increasing tempo, ending with furious pounding and box annihilation by Dmitri. Another great drumming effect was done by Alexei juggling three clubs and whacking them against drum heads that were moved quickly by the others to different points behind his shoulders and knees to the tune of “Willie and the Hand Jive.”
One of my favorite routines was more music and less juggling, but clever nonetheless. It was an act with a flute, tuba, and guitar that had each instrument jointly played by two Brothers. That is: Zossima had his mouth on the flute while Pavel’s hand plugged the holes at the same time that he blew into the tuba which Alexei keyed while strumming the guitar that Dmitri fingered (and during this tangled trio, Dmitri and Zossima siamese juggled with their free hands over everything). Here’s a link to a great photo of this routine (with different members of the troupe).
Most of the juggling in the show was fairly simplistic (pretty much 3 objects per person, except a short 5 glow-ball cascade) but the way it was combined with the music and rhythms and humor brought it to a different level. Their juggling piece de resistance is their classic “Jazz” routine. Basically Dmitri feeds the other three while they all throw a barrage of visual tricks which seem unlikely to be caught, but they maintain it for a long time, even telling corny jokes and awful puns all the while. I have definite respect for their club passing skills and their sense of humor.
The show had great pacing and the music provided strong energy for all the routines. Everything was very well-rehearsed from the timing of the jokes to the tight choreography of the juggling routines. This was a lot more polished than your average show and they had very few unintentional drops.
The Brothers had a basic plot throughout the entire show in which they built up to their finale: The Terror Trick! Basically they added continuity by having one of their nine terror items presented after each routine. At the end, they passed the meat cleaver, flaming torch, leaky salt shaker, ukulele, frying pan, plastic fish, egg, block of dry ice, and bottle of Cava champagne to great applause from the audience.