The Double: from Dostoevsky to Adam Paolozza…!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo from the Tarragon Theatre.

A great mastery of physical theatre sets Bad News Days Productions apart. Done as a play within a play in various times zones but originating in the present, it resembles a cabaret performance where three very talented young men perfectly trained in the art of mime, circus techniques, mimicry, tell the story of a Mr. Golyadkin, a simple office clerk who lives by himself, who has strange, troubled dreams , who is stressed by the behaviour of his office colleagues who appear to make fun of him; There is also the behaviour of his fiancé who breaks off their wedding. Is he really fleeing from himself? Is he so totally alone, abandoned by all humanity?. Perhaps, but Golyadkin continues on bravely. He eventually comes in contact with his pesky double –his shadow on the wall, or is it the other narrator playing the acoustic bass who appears to be feeding him his lines? This double taunts the older fellow, he disappears and reappears, he interferes with his office relations, and he shows up the older Golyadkin until the poor man can’t take it anymore. It all takes place under the stress of the terrible Kafka-like bureaucracy in Saint Petersburg in Russia. A medical doctor comes into the picture (no psychiatry at that

period of the 19th Century), tells him to take his medication or just to lighten up. No one understands him…he is lost and eventually the new Golyadkin takes over as the poor helpless victim, the real Golyadkin, is dragged off to the asylum as the performance is finished and they tell us we can go home after  spouting a rather misrepresensted word play on Artaud’s The Theatre and his Double . It appears to be theatre within theatre and the audience has loads of fun. 

It is done as a wild and woolly clown show where each of the three actors exploits his own very special talents. Adam Paolozza (also the director)  plays the stressed out older Golyadkin whose work as both the doubles was almost uncanny. Paolozza appears and disappears as the new Golyadkin double, suddenly bouncing off the wall as a twisted subhuman  shadow, moving around  volumes set up to facilitate the separation of the bodies,  or stretched out over the stage wall. Exceptionally effective are André Du Toit’s excellent lighting effects which create the double expressionist effect of shadows of all shapes over the floor, the ceiling and everywhere you look. Also very good was the orchestration of the narrator ARif Mirabdolbaghi, strumming on an acoustic bass, plucking the strings to emphasize the right pauses in the dialogue. All that gave this performance a certain panache.There is Viktor Lukawski ; long , lanky an extremely talented mimic and mime who transforms himself into anyone or anything with fluttering arms and a body ready to bend into many parts.  Under Paolozza’s deft direction it all rattles along lickety split at a furious pace, we never tire and the 2 hours rush by painlessly. This is a show that young people would certainly love because of the high quality of the physical creativity. .

However, this Double left me extremely uneasy because it had nothing to do with Dostoevsky’s novel except for some of the situations and some quotes from the original text that always appeared to be taken out of context. The publicity should have stated that this was very loosely inspired by The Double but that it was essentially a clown show because, actually , the Russian version is not a story that inspires much laughter.  It follows the evolution of a disturbed individual plunging deeper and deeper into paranoia which the author, Dostoevsky, hints at from the very first pages. Golyadkin the Russian character is not a clown. There are some near comic encounters with the double who becomes more and more insolent, more and more insulting, more and more aggressive but he is not funny. He drives old Golyadkin to distraction, his behaviour becomes more unfathomable, difficult to understand, as he attains the monstrous status of an evil little creature who hangs about watching for his chance to jump. Are we somewhere near Maupassant’s Horla who is the projection of the author’s madness? That is poss8ble even though Maupassant wrote a lot later than Dostoevsky . Is Golyadkin on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Is he near the breaking point? It would seem so. The end is horrifying…but I won’t reveal the final moments of the book.

Dostoevsky sets up a terrifying nightmare but this staging just dilutes it all. The comic action of Viktor Lukawski was always way over the top, like the hysterical clatter of a person totally out of control, which was fine for the local reading of the book but it destroyed the frightening world that underlined Dostoevsky’s text. What was the point?  It was as if Charlie Chaplin suddenly appeared in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari!! I felt the performance was bashing me around and even though I tried to enjoy the fine artistry of the troupe, knowing the book spoiled it all for me.

This is therefore one case where you must not read the original text. It will only leave you in a state of terrible dissatisfaction. Just like poor Golyadkin. And nothing can be worse than that…In the meantime, bring the young ones and anyone else who wants a laugh, It is a harmless  little show  and the clever artistry  will give you a moment of fun but I’m sure that Dostoevsky is turning over in his grave because he had much more serious things to say.

The Double plays until May 2, in the Studio of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

A BAD NEWS DAYS Production, (Toronto). An NAC English Theatre presentation with NAC Ontario Scene.

The Double based on the novel by Dostoevsky.

Director  Adam Paolozza

Three actors: Adam Paolozza, Arif Mirabdolbaghi, Viktor Lukawski,

Set design:  Ken Mackenzie

Lighting: André Du Toit

Charles Ketchabaw:   Sound


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