There were once four Flying Karamazov Brothers. There are now five. One extra, however, does not add up to a "10" evening by any means. The Brothers K are primarily jugglers and when they are tossing scythes, Indian clubs or lighted torches to each other, they are superb and engrossing. It is only when they open their mouths - and keep them open for more than two hours - that the difficulty arises.
The five take their names from Dostoevsky and his "Brothers Karamazov," but there the association ends. They are neither brothers nor Russian nor does their material reflect the great novelist's. If it had, the jokes might have been better - if blacker.
Paul David Magid (Dmitri), Randy Nelson (Alyosha), Timothy Daniel Furst (Fyodor), Sam Williams (Smerdyakov) and Howard Jay Patterson (Ivan) are sort of intellectual equivalents of the Brothers Marx. As they caper about in a circus atmosphere, outrageous puns and hopelessly corny asides fly among them. One brother offers a pair of torn trousers to another, cautioning: "If Euripides, then Eumenidies." That's not only awful, it's old.
Though the aura of a Three Stooges melee hovers over the goings-on, the dialogue is a trifle hipper. Two brothers, for example, trade lines from Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" while whipping projectiles between them. Another describes a ukelele as "an exact replica of John Coltrane's saxophone." Mildly amusing at best, although some fans will insist that, for the full effect, you had to be there. I was. It didn't help.
To their credit, the Brothers K never pretend that their absurdities are anything more than they are. If there is less here than meets the eye, it seems to be okay with them - and with a good sector of the preview crowd of which I was part.
The Brothers, in fact, are more an audience show than most Broadway offerings. They ask - and get - enthusiastic audience participation. At one juncture, Patterson called for items to juggle. A roast chicken, ski boot, fencing foil, ripe pineapple, gelatin and a bagful of pot were promptly thrown onstage by the prepared fans. Patterson failed to juggle them successfully and his fate, wildly cheered by most, was a pie in the face. I was heartened for a few moments when, after intermission, the circus-like band onstage played my absolutely all-time favorite classic, "The Teddy Bears' Picnic," but then the sophomoric banter continued as before.
A colleague tells me that the Brothers K were at one time a 45-minute cabaret act and as such were quite good. They might even be a roar on the college circuit. For two hours on Broadway, however, the show might be retitled "Time and Punishment."
The most bizarre help has arrived for our ailing Broadway. It is a juggling show - that's right, kids, jugglers. It is The Flying Karamazov Brothers who flew into the newly refurbished and, more important, reopened Ritz Theater last night, and, so far as I am concerned, need never fly out again.
These five men, who do not fly, are not brothers, and have only a very loose kinship with Dostoievsky, are tremendous, but vaguely indescribable. You have to be there - and you should be there as soon as possible.
The idea of two hours of juggling is not a particularly appealing one - and I must say when I sat down in my seat, my heart was sunk and my spirits were lower.
But what the Karamazovs give us is not juggling - well not precisely juggling. Imagine a mixture of Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, Helzapoppin, and one of those Hungarian troupes of jugglers always to be found discreetly in the left-hand ring of a three ring circus.
Not that these five guys are not terrific jugglers - they really are. But in a vague, existential way, juggling is the least important part of their act. To call the Karamazovs jugglers would be like calling the QE2 a paddle-steamer. There are similarities, but the superficial differences are so vast they become basic.
The curtain goes up on a marching band that, naturally, doesn't march. It looks as though it has been costumed by Sgt. Pepper, although in fact all the attractive costumes, as well as the colorful pavilion-like structure that provides the evening's setting, have been provided by Robert Fletcher.
The band thumps and toots away merrily for a bit - and then we are off and juggling. And laughing. For the essence of the Karamazov performance, its philosophical kernel as it were, is that deft is daft, and deft is funny.
When you see a difficult action - almost any difficult action - exquisitely performed, you instinctively smile. In some obscure way it is funny. The Karamazovs exploit this reaction, with comic routines, wild, seemingly improvised jokes and the endless cult of their own carefully maintained zany personalities.
The juggling itself is real enough. And very original. They juggle with the most unusual objects - meat cleavers, flaming torches, sickles, and even - in a way - cats.
At one moment they challenge the audience to produce any object - there are size and weight limitations - and one of them will juggle with three of them produced by the audience at random.
At the performance I saw the selected objects were a pie, a piece of uncooked liver, and a cream gateau. Whether these were planted I cannot say - do people come to the theater bearing bits of raw liver? - but planted or not, and if pushed, somehow, I suspect not, the results are hilarious and effective.
They equate juggling with music - they even makes tunes out of their flying objects - a couple of them actually managing to play Chopsticks on a xylophone. And they discuss, semi-seriously, whether juggling is an art, a science or a trick.
With the Karamazovs it's a unique entertainment. The show is also the invitation to meet five beguilingly charming people. They cannot possibly be as nice as they seem - even though they come from San Francisco. They don't seem to have a mean bone in their corporate body, and are endlessly agreeable.
The two ringleaders, they are also musicians, seem to be Howard Jay Patterson, a former biologist who does most of the think-talking, and Paul David Magid, who looks like a sad Russian waiter out of a '30s movie, and is probably the maddest of the five.
Sam Williams is chunky, wistful and radiantly leprecaunish, Randy Nelson seems waspish and crazily straight, while Timothy Daniel Furst resembles a discouraged Don Quixote and is the one who specializes in the heterogeneous juggling ingenuity.
For an evening of puns, juggles, loud music and louder people, you cannot do better than flying with the Karamazov Bros. In my humble opinion it's likely to prove the best juggling revue on W. 48th St. this month! Catch it before they kill themselves with the meat cleaver.
The Flying Karamazov Brothers, while neither Russian nor brothers, are certainly the best jugglers anyone would ever want to see. In their boisterous, good-natured vaudeville act at the newly rejuvenated Ritz Theater, they juggle everything from flaming torches to eggs to razor-sharp sickles. Such feats are not idle monkey business. As one of the fellows explains, ''There's only one end of a sickle one can catch - more than once.''
The Flying Karamazovs have a few other tricks as well. When they're not juggling - and even when they are - they play musical instruments, sing a cappella, float deliberately outrageous puns and crack jokes. Some of these sideshows are amusing - none of them are dourly Dostoyevskyan -but they rarely distract from the main event. It's when the Karamazovs magically make juggling look like a dance routine or sound like a jazz jam session that their act really flies. It's when they invite audience volunteers to provide them with ''juggling objects'' - a slippery dead fish and a plate of jello at the preview I intended - that we're most involved.
The reason why this two-hour show can be found on Broadway rather than at the circus apparently has to do with the Karamazovs' somewhat romanticized conception of their nonjuggling talents. The jokes are studded with theatrical references - from ''Gypsy'' to ''Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'' to ''Hamlet'' - and, when the men put on Groucho glasses, we see that they fashion themselves as new-fangled Marx Brothers. There are also mock musings on esthetics: they announce a list of ''seven theatrical principles,'' among them the rather defensive statement that ''there's more to the theater than repetition - but not much.'' Such talk, these days, certifies its purveyors as bona fide Performance Artists.
Because all five ''brothers'' are skilled at deadpan takes and comic timing, they may yet realize their ambition to clown as artfully as they juggle. At this point, their humor is knowing and erudite without being especially clever. Much of it is wholly reflective of the performers' origins - the West Coast - and recalls the late 1960's, pre-Hollywood antics of Cheech and Chong. What might, even now, convulse stoned audiences in Santa Cruz seems more precious than zany to this sober New York theatergoer.
It also remains to be seen if the Karamazovs can develop distinct characterizations a la the Marx Brothers or any other comedy team. With their black mock-Slavic uniforms, mangy whiskers and unruly hairstyles, they too often blur together: it's not for nothing that their costume accessories must come in different colors to help us tell who's who. Although all five are charming and equally accomplished at the act's various hijinks, it's only Randy Nelson, doing a beatific California blond routine (''Peace! Granola!''), who seems to march to his own, individually idiosyncratic beat. The others have hip attitudes in lieu of full personalities.
None of these failings, however, mar the sweet, rambunctious spirit of the evening or the many daredevil variations the Karamazovs work on their principal stock-in-trade. This show will please most children and any adults who don't mind too much of a good, if limited, thing.