Dovstoevsky's "The Idiot" onstage at PuSh Festival

A confused Prince Myshkin (centre) in a scene of The Idiot. All photos courtesy of PuSh Festival.

 Set in Russian in the 1860s Neworld Theatre and Vancouver Moving Theatre brings to the 21st century an adaption of The Idiot, by  Fyodor Dostoevsky. The story parallels the writer's own experience of society as a place where the good are taken advantage of and the not so good get ahead.

Director and playwright, James Fagan Tait has caught the spirit of the Russian genius’ 600 plus-page epic book and transformed it into a three hour  play at the Frederick Wood Theatre at UBC.  The play is part of the PuSh Festival.

This is the second Dostoevsky-inspired undertaking by Tait and company, who staged “Crime and Punishment” in 2005.

The central character is Prince Myshkin (Kevin MacDonald). The prince refuses to think that anyone could do harm. He is naively trusting. Hence, an idiot.

Nastasya Filiippovna (in red) with Rogozhin (at her left) and friends at birthday party.

The play opens with Prince Myshkin arriving from Switzerland in St. Petersburg. Prince Myshkin has just spent five years in the Swiss countryside being treated for epilepsy and “ idiocy”. His doctor said the second was the by-product of the first. Even though he is a prince, his baggage is a small bundle and he wears modest clothes, but he is the beneficiary of a large inheritance that Plavishtchev, his deceased guardian has left for him.

On the train, Myshkin meets the sinister and irate Rogozhin (Andrew McNee), with whom he bonds as a "brother". Roghozin intends to propose marriage to the play's anti-heroine, Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov (Cherise Clark), a young woman of doubtful reputation according to the standards at that time.  Myshkin, the last of his kin, will also meet a distant cousin, the childlike Mrs. Yepanchin (Patty Allan).

Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov, an extremely clever but tormented soul,  was the mistress of a landowner who took her under his wing at age 12 after her parents died, but when he lost interest and went on a hunt for a new woman. To get rid of her, he promised Ganya (Craig Erickson), General Yepachin’s (David Adams) assistant,  a dowry of 75,000 rubles if he married her, but greedy Ganya apparently loves another woman:  the rebellious Aglaya (Adrienne Wong),  the Yepanchins'  youngest daughter.

The  Prince falls in love at first sight with Nastasya  Filippovna's pale beauty when Ganya shows him her picture.

Myshkin  finds himself amidst  a web of gossip, deception, betrayal, greed, lust, which lead  him and the woman he loves to succumb to a tragic vortex of events.

The stage, designed by Brian Pollock, is dark and minimalistic, skillfully shadowed, setting a somber and eerie mood. It also allows movement and smooth transitions.

Joelysa Pankanea, the musical director and composer, plays the  marimba with acoustic bassist Mark Haney and Molly Mackinnon on the violin.

The actors  turn to singing to explain the characters' stories. Nastasya Filippovna Barashow’s name is chanted throughout, underscoring her bad luck.

The dialogue has been updated, so audiences can relate more with the characters and the ongoing drama.

MacDonald’s  performance as Myshkin is  brilliant. He masters  Myshkin’s humble spirit while  Clarke's interpretation of Nastasya Filippovna displays the vulnerability and bitter sweetness of the character.

Andrew McNee, as Rogozhin, lets emerge the roughness of a man on the edge of insanity, the extreme and unbridled passion for Nastasya Filippovna. At the same time,  Patty Allan as Mrs. Yepanchin captured the good nature of the aristocratic lady, her humour and her very honest approach and compassion towards Prince Myshkin.

The Idiot runs until January 29th.

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