Dostoevsky’s 'Notes From the Underground' Struggles on Stage

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Tickets are $20-30; call 440-6163 or visit www.phoenixtheatresf.org.
Through Oct. 13 at Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason, Sixth Floor (between Post Geary), S.F. Oct. 18-Nov. 3 at Metal Shop Theatre, 2425 Stuart (behind Willard Middle School), Berkeley.

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There is a lovely moment to start the second act of this play inspired by Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground that hints at what the show could have been: a man returns to his lover and relates the horror of seeing a coffin carried from a basement as the two stroke and hold each other in the midst of a video rendition of falling snow. Alas, this kind of simplicity is rare in the rest of the 2-hour-and-15-minute musing on the state of humanity in the world. In the first act, there are so many profound ideas and so many slightly sketched characters doled out to us in stops and starts by actor and director Oleg Liptsin that it is hard to make sense of it all. No doubt, Liptsin and his theater partner Ai-Cheng Ho are great admirers of Dostoevsky, and they should be credited for choosing to punctuate the Russian writer's dense ideas with Kevin Quennesson's quirky and sometimes intriguing video technology. Yet there is still much work needed to turn the insights of one of Russia's great novelists into a compelling experience on the stage.

 
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