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The Stanislavsky Theater Studio’s The Brothers Karamazov improves on the novel in a crucial way: It’s got pretty pictures. Andrei Malaev-Babel’s ambitious production is exquisitely staged and choreographed, and flowingly performed. Its images linger: the chorus of white-petticoated women, who shape-change into monks or whores or just a flurry of inner voices; the tableau that counterposes the black-clad Katerina (Tiffany Givens) and her scarlet-woman rival, Grushenka (Anna Kepe); the trial in which the accused sits alone, while his dull-voiced questioner is only glimpsed, pacing behind an array of pillars/ women. Much credit should be given to the fleet, limber company, and to David Gaines and Vladimir Angelov, for movement and choreography, respectively. But at nearly three hours, the play is almost as ponderous as the book. It’s not that STS hasn’t tried for accessibility, with a playbill so thorough it translates phrases from six foreign languages and lists four nicknames for Alexei. But if you haven’t read Dostoyevsky, you’re in for a challenge. Maybe it’s better to ignore the plot anyway, because Malaev-Babel and Roland Reed’s stage adaptation reduces it to a series of vignettes, with clearly different points of view, some of which are enjoyed most as philosophical arguments or parables. Heck, you might even want to ignore the acting, inasmuch as some of it wants nothing so much as to call attention to itself. In contrast to the positively magnetic performances by Maggie Glauber as Lise and Justin Benoit as Alexei, Steve Wilhite as Ivan—one of the titular brothers—leaves tooth marks all over the Church Street Theater. You understand Ivan only through the stories he tells about himself and the observations of other characters; Wilhite fails to flesh him out early on, and the further into the three hours you get, the further from credibility his performance ranges. But you latch onto him as the callow philosopher in the opening scene because, among Christopher Moss’ thinly played, near-vaudevillian cleric, Joe Mills’ uncertain Dmitry, and Gaines’ Rip Taylor-esque Fyodor, he represents something like verisimilitude. You shouldn’t go expecting naturalism—acting coach Sarah Kane is an acolyte of Michael Chekhov’s imagination-driven acting method—but the odd cadences and mismatched words and affects of much of the company become either so mesmerizing or so off-putting that it’s easy to go: “Wait—who’s Lise again? Whose father is the colonel? What country is this, anyway?” Don’t obsess on the plot, however—approach Karamazov as a series of rapturous images. —Pamela Murray Winters