Dostoevsky Trip | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Dostoevsky Trip


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DOSTOEVSKY TRIP, Elephant Man Theater Company, at Profiles Theatre. Companies marching deep into Russian territory would do well to heed history's examples--and consider a different front. Especially when the text in question is the literary equivalent of a Russian winter. Postmodern shockster Vladimir Sorokin--whose 2002 pornography charge called attention to the persistence of the old ways in the new Russia--has crafted just such a script, a valley of death for the doomed Elephant brigade.

Truth be told, this fresh-faced troupe is better suited to a Grenada-size adventure. Though not without potential, they're woefully unprepared for the demands of this nightmare campaign. Under director Alexander Jameson's hazy command they maintain ragged formation for a while, but as the script devolves into ever-more-trying experimentality, the ranks fall into chaos. One actor wields a painfully cartoonish accent while the rest speak standard American, and everyone emotes at 11, enacting a grim orgy of furrowed brows, clenched jaws, and hate-curdled shrieking.

But like Napoleon's Grande Armee, the Elephants are ultimately undone by the frigid landscape itself. Sorokin's mildly provocative conceit posits books and authors as drugs; dosed with Dostoyevsky, the junkie characters thrash through one clumsy half hour of expressionist anguish, then another of primal-memory encounter-group jive culminating in ritual repetition of the word "pooping." Despite some superficial ties to The Idiot, the text--at least as translated by Luda Jameson--offers little insight into the Russian (or human) condition.

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