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Abundance of Ideas Overwhelms 'The Idiot'

Theater Review

May. 25, 2011
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Can pure goodness really thrive—or even survive—in a society based on self-centered material gain? Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky spent 600 pages wrestling with this idea, among others, in his novel The Idiot. Dramatist David Fishelson adapted the sprawling work into a play that spans just less than three hours. Off the Wall Theatre opened its production of the play last weekend. The results? Less would be so much more.

With so many ideas afoot, the dramatization ends up more talk, less action—all the more so given the confined nature of Off the Wall's space. The 15-member cast tries its best to fit into the tight confines of the staging space. But even scenes that start with strong ideas and movement get bogged down with the static discourse. Then there's the cast's attempt at using Russian accents, which fade in and out like the misused, miscued and miscast music that overwhelmed scenes and dialogue and distracted from otherwise flowing moments. Volume was certainly an issue. However, the attempt to give scenes a sweeping epic nature with Rachmaninoff pieces clashed at times with various intimate goings-on as well as dialogue. Between the attempt at accents and the distracting music, it's understandable (to a degree) that actors dropped their lines.

Faring best among the large cast was Eric Nelson as the central character, the innocent, naïve Prince Myshkin. Nelson has a mighty job carrying this production on his shoulders, and he's up to the task, radiating goodness outward while dealing with the scheming machinations of those around him and battling his own inner demons. As Myshkin's quasi-friend and rival, Rogozhin, Jeremy C. Welter ably navigates the transformation from ruthless materialist to confused lover, eventually consumed and destroyed by the woman the two men desire but cannot have.

The Idiot
runs through May 29 at Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St. For more information, call 414-327-3552 or visit www.offthewalltheatre.com.

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