Back on Planet Dostoevsky


Arts & Culture

Part three of a four-part review.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

3:15 P.M. “If you knew all the yams I have to tell them,” one character says, according to the supertitles. I am briefly interested, until I realize they are yarns and not yams. Pyotr is trying to recruit Nikolai to be part of his terrorist plot. This is such an amazing scene in the book. They’re saying practically the exact lines Dostoevsky wrote, and they aren’t bad actors, but somehow the effect isn’t there. It’s really weird. Maybe it is like the movie where the souls are put into storage.

3:31 P.M. Another great scene from the book—Shatov tells Nikolai Stavrogin, “Remember the importance you have had in my life, Stavrogin”—part of a sequence of scenes where Nikolai visits different people and they all project various completely demented fantasies onto him (because they are possessed). But I’m not feeling it. I like the actor who plays Shatov—he reminds me a bit of Oscar the Grouch. I feel affectionately every time he pops up again out of his depressing cell. But I don’t believe it when he says that he is a worm and Nikolai is the sun.

The piano is punctuating every other line with ominous clunking sounds. Sometimes someone hits the strings with a hammer. It doesn’t help.

3:45 P.M. They are still introducing new characters. They only just got to Fedka the convict.

3:50 P.M. Neck and shoulder pain have set in. Captain Lebyadkin wants to write a will leaving his skeleton to students. A label on the skull will read: “A Repentant Freethinker.” “You’re getting rid of me like an old slipper?” Lebyadkin shouts to Nikolai. This sounds funny in Italian, because the word for slipper is ciabatta.

3:59 P.M. The lame retarded girl has been shrieking for four minutes now about a knife.

4:07 P.M. Nikolai and Gaganov are fighting a duel. It takes forever. The seconds are marking off the paces, putting up the barriers. I always wondered what the barriers in a duel looked like. In this case, they look like unpainted construction barriers.

Kirilov looks kind of Jewish.

4:10 P.M. They are finally done choosing their weapons.

4:14 P.M. The first shots are finally fired. Gaganov shoots Nikolai in the hand, but Nikolai shoots in the air. The guns are really loud. A crazy-sounding old guy in the audience roars with laughter. I’ve been noticing for a while now in the audience: less knowing meta-theatrical laughter, and more random crazy-person laughter.

4:16 P.M. The second shots are fired. Nikolai shoots at the ground this time. “WAHAHAHAHA” roars the crazy guy in the audience.

4:20 P.M. Another break. “This isn’t like a play, it’s like life,” Patricia Marx observes. We are all afraid of getting embolisms. J. shows me some helpful yoga postures. Outside, golf carts are waiting to take defectors back to the ferry. I inquire about the attrition rates. They said that yesterday, out of an audience of 450, “only ten or twenty” left.

“Today there were more,” they said. “It’s a hot day. People are getting overwhelmed.”

A middle-aged couple climbs into one of the golf carts and is carted away. We look on with a shade of envy. J. is really a good sport—he could leave early, but doesn’t.

A guy with an AC/DC shirt is drinking beer from a bottle near a sign that says “Compost Demonstration.” There are several piles of garbage behind the sign. I ask J. whether he thinks the AC/DC guy is with the demons or with the compost.

“Compost,” J. says.

I go up and ask. It turns out that he and his friend have flown out all the way from Portland just to see this play.

“Are you enjoying it?” I ask.

“It’s awesome!” they both say.

“What do you like about it?”

AC/DC guy shrugs and looks at his friend, who is smoking a cigarette. “It’s so… Italian,” the friend says.

4:50 P.M. Back on planet Dostoevsky, the mayor’s wife announces a ball to benefit indigent governesses.

4:58 P.M. If you leave your legs hanging out in the aisle, it somehow strains your neck, but is easier on the knees and shins.

5:02 P.M. The freethinkers are having a huge meeting. This time there are some women in attendance. According to the program, one of the intellectual women is played by the same actress as the pretty lame retarded girl. She is completely unrecognizable. A female university student gets in a fight with a man who turns out to be her uncle.

5:05 P.M. The intellectuals are arguing about whether they’re at a meeting or simply a social gathering. They decide to put the matter to a vote. This takes even longer than you would think.

5:08 P.M. They’re still arguing about whether raising your hand counts as a vote pro or con. Pro or con what? Another argument.

5:11 P.M. Watching this pointless, mishandled committee meeting feels literally indistinguishable from attending a pointless, mishandled committee meeting. Was life really like this for intellectuals, back when they had political causes? It probably was.

5:21 P.M. “You’re afraid of being reported? Could there really be a spy in our group?” These seemingly innocuous words, spoken by a committee member, elicit a loud guffaw from someone a few rows behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, I behold an elderly man with a white beard and excellent posture. He is literally gasping with laughter.

Pyotr provokes Shatov. Shatov spits in Pyotr’s face. Things are going badly for Shatov.

5:35 P.M. “What we need is for corruption to form man into a vile, selfish creature! Russia will be dark, the earth will open up to weep, and we will introduce… who?” Pyotr pauses. “The Tsarevich Ivan!” He sounds as if he’s joking. I think he should sound dead serious.

5:35 P.M. “Should I hire a musician to direct the swarm of crickets in your head?” the mayor’s wife asks the mayor. I am astonished and mildly concerned to notice the LA Times critic burst into laughter. I hope he isn’t losing it, too.

5:40 P.M. “I was like a little Don River Cossack jumping over his own grave,” Stepan Petrovich observes, more than once. He and Varvara Petrovna are discussing what he should read at the
ball to benefit indigent governesses. He wants to read a piece about the Sistine Madonna. She informs him angrily that he had better tell three stories from the Spanish Middle Ages. I wonder which of these subjects I would rather hear a speech about, but am unable to reach a conclusion.

It’s strange to hear Varvara Petrovna, an Italian, maligning the Sistine Madonna. It’s strange to hear an Italian even say “Madonna” disparagingly.

5:42 P.M. “You are a rhetorician, not a friend!”

5:44 P.M. My elbow starts itching uncontrollably. I feel like Huckleberry Finn at church.

5:45 P.M. Stepan Trofimovich has a huge curly white beard and voluminous curly black hair, which, in combination, make him resemble Karl Marx. Is the resemblance intentional?

Tomorrow: The only ones left on the island.

part 1, and part 2.