By Cory Matteson | Lincoln Journal Star
Ten years ago, in an entry level lit class, a professor assigned Phil Malcom and his fellow classmates a heap of classics. They burrowed through six of them, including all of “The Divine Comedy” and a selection of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.”
The 19th-century Russian author’s final novel is both weighty reading and, at 1,000-plus pages, depending on the edition, weighted reading. Rather than bookmark its Wikipedia page, Malcom read it cover to cover. And then he read it a few more times. And then he helped start a podcast where he forced his fellow members of The Colonel Mustard Theatre Company to butcher hourlong passages of it.
“There’s something about the breadth of that book that stuck with me,” Malcom, 28, said. “I came back to it later. It’s amazing you could have this story that’s essentially a murder mystery, and it covered every bit of human experience I’d lived in my life to that point.”
In the same way that previous Mustard writers have turned their obsessive reverence of “The X-Files,” “Jurassic Park,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and more into lovingly mocked adaptations for the community theater stage, Malcom and three more writers took to “The Brothers Karamazov.” Starting Aug. 20 and running through Aug. 22, Colonel Mustard will perform “The Brothers Karamazov (Unabridged)” in the backyard of the troupe’s home base, 920 D St.
All of your favorite tormented and free-will-questioning Russians will be there, including Dmitri (Paul Dunning), Ivan (Rochelle Braukmueller) and Alexei “Alyosha” Karamazov (Cara Walters) and even little Smerdyakov (Chloe Karr). The three sons and one possible illegitimate son of Fyodor Karamazov (Eric Harris) are the stars of the show, and the four writers -- Malcom, Will Anderson, Aaron Holmes and Aaron Chambers -- each picked a Russian brother to focus on and built the script from there in one shared online doc filled with red squiggly lines.
Malcom got his favorite brat -- really, that’s how you pronounce brother in Russian -- Alyosha. His plight for the first act of the novel, in which he tries and tries to go meet his mentor only to be summoned to do some other family task, is the type of anguish that he said can be repositioned into a backyard comedy production rather seamlessly.
“He spends 300 pages just running around, which I found darkly funny,” he said. “He almost reminds me of Michael (Bluth) from ‘Arrested Development.' He’s probably a better person than Michael. He’s constantly at the whims of his crazy family.”
Malcom and Holmes were in on it early, as Malcom convinced his longtime friend to crack the spine of Dostoyevsky’s final work soon after reading it in that lit seminar. They’ve spent hours discussing the crises of faith, bizarre psychological issues and bleak humor found inside the novel.
“I don’t know how heavy Russian literature became our friendly bond, but it did,” he said.
Malcom has dragged many more members of the Mustard crew into 19th-century Russia by way of a podcast he hosts, “The Brothers Karamazov and Friends.” There, he introduces a guest reader who then suffers through the process of reading from the book for an hour. There are three rules -- no help with pronunciation, no re-dos and you have to do voices for the characters.
“The best ones are where people just give up,” Malcom said. “They’ll get the first letter in there and give up on the rest of the word.”
Then the next guest reader starts up where the last one left off. Eventually it will be something of an audio book. Possibly. It’s been going on since 2011.
“The Brothers Karamazov (Unabridged)” will ditch all of the rules associated with the podcast. There are no accents and more rehearsal than a Mustard production often involves, even though this is a scaled-back performance compared to some of the pop culture sendups of previous years.
“When we decided to go with the yard, we decided to go small with the show,” said Taylor Jackson, who’s co-directing the play. “Let’s focus on doing it as well as we can.”
When the troupe first staged “Jurassic Park: The Musical,” it did so in that backyard. People found it. Then the Internet found it. And the productions expanded from there. Though the group has not exclusively written and performed musicals about pop culture stuff that they loved before this, they’ve done it a lot. The Mustard chose “The Brothers Karamazov” as the starting point this time because it wasn’t that, Malcom said.
“We’ve done the pop culture parody a number of times,” Malcom said. “And I’m sure we’ll do them again in the future.”
Since this performance isn’t in a city park or an open lot or spread about the Near South as past Colonel Mustard shows have been, seating is limited. Attendees are asked to arrive early and take a tour of the home. The mustard-colored house, which is only seven years younger than Dostoyevsky’s final novel, has been the subject of a beautification project by its current and former tenants.
IF YOU GO
What: "The Brothers Karamazov (Unabridged)," The Colonel Mustard Theatre Company
Where: 920 D St., in the backyard
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20-22
Tickets: Admission is free, but seating space is limited -- bring a blanket.
Note: Mustard members will be leading tours of Lincoln's 11th-oldest home before the show begins; for more information go tothecolonelmustard.com.