Duck, You Brothers 

The Flying Karamazov Brothers' L'Universe combines music, slapstick, and state-of-the-art technology.

What looks Russian but isn't, juggles, and has more high-tech hardware than the Pentagon? The Flying Karamazov Brothers, that's who. The costumed four-man musical-comic-acrobatic stage act, which began performing on the street in San Francisco and has since played Broadway, TV, movies, and concert halls, has lately been huddling with scientific wizards at MIT's Media Lab in Boston -- and the result is the Karamazovs' gadget-filled new extravaganza, L'Universe, opening Friday night at Berkeley's Roda Theatre.

The showbiz world is seemingly filled with tech-driven neo-big-top spectacles à la Blue Man and Cirque du Soleil, but the Karamazovs bring a little more schmaltz to the party, not to mention flashing lights. In addition to playing the L'Universe score and dodging gigantic moving props, the bros interact with such electronic devices as sonar transducers and wireless backpack computers that design light shows based on the performers' hand movements. Or something like that. "There's no technology like this anywhere," brags Paul "Dmitri" Magid, one of the four brothers along with Howard Jay Patterson ("Ivan"), Mark Ettinger ("Alexei"), and Roderick Kimball ("Pavel"). Audiences should "come with a completely open mind," advises Magid. "Don't expect a circus spectacular. We think of juggling as a distinct art form. With us, it's rhythmic. We just did a show with the Seattle Symphony, and the symphony audience didn't know what to make of us at first, but they soon got into it."

Magid, who grew up in the Bay Area in Saratoga, obviously has a taste for the classics as well. The Karamazovs (they're not really brothers, they're not Russian, they're not a trapeze act, and they're not "tools of the KGB to discredit Americans in the eyes of Russians") have adapted their Fyodor Dostoevsky namesake and are ready to remount their version of Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat. But for now, their universe is big, brightly colored, and rapidly moving.


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