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Full Length Plays

The Idiots Karamazov
co-authored by Christopher Durang and Albert Innaurato

The Idiots Karamazov

The Idiots Karamazov premiered at the

Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT

On Oct. 31, 1974.  

Directed by William Peters

Scenic Design by Michael H. Yeargan

Lighting Design by Lloyd S. Rilford III

Costume Design by William Ivey Long

Music by Jack Feldman.  


Meryl Streep as Constance Garnett, Ralph Redpath as Ernest, her butler

The Karamazov Brothers: Charles Levin as Ivan, the intellectual, Robert Nersesian as Dmitri, the sensualist, Stephen Rowe as Smerdyakaov, the epileptic, Christopher Durang as Alyosha, the monk, Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Grushenka, John Rothman as Fyodor Karamazov, the father, Jeremy Geidt as Father Zossima, Altar Boys: Danny Brustein and Evan Drutman, Linda Atkinson as Mary Tyrone Karamazov, Lizbeth MacKay as *Djuna Barnes, Kate McGregor-Stewart as Anais Pnin, Leather Girls: Margot Lovecraft and Dawn Forest, Peter Blanc Joacquin Pnin as the dead body.

(*Christine Estabrook played the part of Djuana for first week.)

In the spring of 1974, there was a student production of the play at the Yale School of Drama, directed by Tom Haas, with music by Walton Jones.  The cast was the same as the above except for the following: Ivan was Stephen Rowe; Dmitri was Kenneth Ryan; Smerdyakov was Doug Harley; Alyosha was Steven Nowicki; Fr. Zossima was Dan Desmond; Djuna was Alma Cuervo; Anais was Lizbeth MacKay; Leather Girls were Patricia Quinn and Valerie J. Neale.


And the very first production was in 1973 at Silliman College of Yale University, and was billed as The Brothers Karamazov starring Dame Edith Evans.  That production, directed by Albert Innaurato and with music by Jack Feldman, featured Innaurato as Constance (dubbing for the ailing Dame Edith), Durang as Alyosha, Ted Tally as Ivan, Ruth Nerken as Anais, Catherine Schreiber as Mary Tyrone, Patrick Dillon as Fr. Zossima, Roberta Caruso as Grushenka, Patricia Christo as Elena Blumenthal (later Djuna Barnes).

This piece, which was the first professional production of both Durang and Innaurato in 1975 at Yale Repertory Theatre, is a madcap dash through Western literature.  As such, its ideal audience is probably a college one. 

Some reviews included:

“The Idiots Karamazov” is, more or less, a musical comedy based on “The Brothers Karamazov,” which is enough to make Dostoyevesky turn over in his grave.  Actually there is nothing grave about this antic undertaking… moments of comic inspiration.  … I liked the all-nonsense attitude.   

– Mel Gussow, New York Times


(l to r) Linda Atkinson as Mary Tryone Karamazov, Meryl Streep as Miss Havisham, Christopher Durang as Aylosha.

Photo by Bill Baker

Meryl Streep & Christopher Durang in The Idiots Karamazov

Meryl Streep as Constance listens to Christopher Durang as Alyosha, monk-turned-pop-star.

Photo by Bill Baker

"The Idiots Karamazov” has no taste.  It also has no reverence, no respect for the sacred, and no veneer of gentility.  It does possess wit and a flair for the absurd.  These qualities and fine acting combine to make the latest Yale Rep production a magnificently funny and exciting play.  Meryl Streep’s performance in the role [of Constance Garnett] is superb.

– Laurel Graeber, Yale Daily News

…a devastating satire of literary creatures and conventions… there is a wildly comic perversion of virtually every literary genre, and a great many identifiable, bizarre characters from the world of letters, woven crazily through the script’s fabric.  …It’s quite an impressive show in its zany fashion… wonderfully inspired for the cleverness and tide of mirth. 

– Richard Day, Bridgeport Post

The Story

Constance Garnett is the 80 year old, wheelchair bound “tranlatrix” of many Russian works.  (In the original production she was hilariously played by Meryl Streep, in heavy make-up and still a Drama School student.)  Ms. Garnett attempts to tell the audience her memories of when she translated Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, but she promptly confuses the Karamazov brothers with Chekhov’s Three Sisters, leading to the song O We Gotta Get to Moscow.

Eventually Ms. Garnett starts to tell the story of the innocent monk Alyosha Karamazov, who tries to help his troubled family – the intellectual Ivan, the epileptic Smerdyakov, and the sensualist Dmitri who kills his own father over love for the prostitute Grushenka. 

But the translatrix’s brain is a muddle, and soon Mrs. Karamazov turns out to be more like morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone from Long Day’s Journey into Night and Alyosha seems a bit like Edmund from that same play.  And then the saintly Father Zossima from the Doestoevsky book turns out to be a gay foot fetishist (which repulses Alyosha who asks “How can there be a God if there are feet?”).

Alyosha then meets famous diarist/sensualist Anais Nin, is seduced by her, loses his faith and becomes a pop singer (whose anthem is the rock song Everything’s Permitted).  

The Russian Revolution comes in, everyone is thrown out into the snow, and eventually Constance Garnett translates herself into the action herself, becoming Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, while the despairing Alyosha is turned into Pip and his mother Mary Tyrone is turned into Estella who dies of an overdose.   

The play ends with Constance intoning a closing speech that explodes with first and last lines of famous works, and her final conjugation of the verb Karamazov.

This is a very specialized play.  It was kind of a hit in its 1975 Yale production.  There was a memorable Chicago production in the late 70s (or early 80s) where the main critic panned it, but the next day wrote a second review saying he was wrong and it was excellent.  (That doesn't happen much!)  And in 1999 Robert Brustein (who produced the Yale production) re-presented the play at his American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This production was directed by Karin Coonrod, with music by Peter Golub, and featured a memorable performance by Thomas Derrah as Constance Garnett.

Cast size: 7 male, 6 female
Rights: Dramatists Play Service

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