The Flying Karamazov Brothers in 4-Play January 10, 2009
By Glen Creason
It’s nice to see that the one-time hippie street performance group the Flying Karamazov Brothers can fill the big theater at Cerritos and hold court for almost two hours. After all, they started all this nonsense back in the last gasps of the 60’s in an attempt to keep from taking real jobs. By my old math reckoning this means they have been doing this for pert near forty years which is a long time, even for jugglers. Most certainly the house was filled with old-time fans and those who were not even thought of when the boys first juggled on the streets of San Francisco way back when Richard Nixon was president. The Brothers still have a subculture bent and an irreverent attitude but the golden kernel of entertainment in the show is serious juggling. At their best the four gentlemen are following in glorious vaudeville tradition, trading quips and dazzling the crowd with the constant movement of props ranging from clubs to rubber balls to on this night a shoe. When they get in the groove the show is riveting and funny with some whiffs of the Marx brothers tossed in, giving one hope for greater fun. My unofficial godfather used to describe his own personal theory of psychology based not on sex or power or ego but on the strongest urge to keep from working a day job. The Karamazov’s have stayed outside the establishment for four decades which is pretty impressive in itself.
At Cerritos they ran through more than a dozen routines with weird angles on each and every one. Drumming taiko on empty cardboard boxes, appearing as devils and opposing angels, dancing Polish clogging, playing French horns, flutes and guitars and choosing objects with exposition for the final number of terror objects were just signposts on the road to 4 Play which is what the show is called. There was a lot of clowning and talk that seemed inspired by Firesign Theater or screwball comedy but it did not always prove to be hilarious on its own. It lacked the edge of Firesign and the physical dexterity of the Marx boys which occasionally drove the show to the precipice of silliness where it tottered before scrambling back on the whirling clubs tossed back and forth. When they juggled the act worked well and the laughs flowed despite some drops and nice recoveries. They compared juggling to music and proved themselves right by demonstrating the rhythm involved in some extremely complicated four-part juggling with clubs. They shot ping pong balls from their mouths and into the ewwwing audience, they tossed raw eggs about before including them as terror objects and woke up a stoned “UCLA student” who jumped into a routine to flawlessly participate in the quartet of dexterity.
The Karamazov’s broke it up by turning out the lights and juggled luminescent clubs, formed an odd musical quartet while juggling, bounced rubber balls up, down and all around a table at center stage and gave the best moments of the night in a set called “Jazz,” featuring speedy club juggling with nimble stream of consciousness comedy that was terrific. Surprisingly for an act that uses some Cheech and Chong humor and a few political swipes the crowd was filled with lots of kids who seemed to love the show and the silliness that abounded.
Best of “4-Play” outside of the electric “Jazz” was the audience participation number where Dmitri (clearly the best juggler in the group) accepted random objects from the crowd and juggled a shoe, a rubbery thing and a can of diet coke without a miss. The grand finale used all the items chosen as terror objects over the evening including a meat cleaver, a hunk of dry ice, a frying pan, a flaming torch, and more which never hit the floor once. The big, enthusiastic crowd seemed to love every minute. These brothers are certainly less troubled than their namesakes in Dostoyevsky’s novel but those tortured souls just did not know how to juggle.