Adapted from Dostoevsky’s novella, The Double, Tarragon Theatre’s second play of the season took a comical look at doppelgängers, alter egos, and the resulting confusion and insanity on Oct. 29, 2013.
“Our hero” Golyadkin (Adam Paolozza, also directing the play), as described by the narrator (Arif Mirabdolbaghi), is a government clerk who has suffered a recent string of mishaps: he loudly proposed to Klara at a party when she was already engaged to Vladimir, the son of his boss; Vladimir has gotten a promotion over him; and he’s been chased on an embankment by some mysterious figure.
Undeterred, Golyadkin decides he just wasn’t confident and forceful enough, opting to propose to Klara again. On the way, he visits his loony, single-minded German doctor (Victor Lukawski), go shopping for various items he can’t afford, and think of ways to crash the party.
All of this is explained partly by Paolozza’s chattering and partly by the narrator, at times their speech mimicking the other and at times the latter using an upright bass to fill in where words aren’t needed. Mirabdolbaghi provides a snappy narrative with the bass, providing two layers of context: it provides another dimension to the starkly bare set design, and its textural juxtaposition with the emptiness both illuminates and adds to the idea of the double. Does a doppelgänger have to be alike in every aspect- speech, mannerisms, appearance, mood- or is it enough to just have the same essence? Mirabdolbaghi, Paolozza and Lukawski say both, that Golyadkin and his double are one and the same by virtue of cast shadows, and two sides of the same coin, such as when Paolozza manipulates Lukawski like a limp puppet in the second half.
Ultimately, the second half is where The Double really comes alive. The first act is repetitive, taking too long to build to the important points and not spending enough time on them once they’re reached. For example, instead of concentrating more on the building tension that arises in Golyadkin as he begins to come face-to-face (pun intended) with his doppelgänger, time is spent on his hysterics and shopping habits. Dostoevsky is a master at exploring the psychological foundations of people in minute detail, and the first act didn’t quite capture that. Much credit is due to Lukawski for taking on so many different characters; it is mostly because of him that the first act reaches a passable level.
Lukawski carries on the strong acting to the second half, making himself as limp as a rag doll with an expressionless face so Paolozza can use him to be the other Golyadkin. In turn, Paolozza himself is impressive as he switches between Golyadkins in dizzying fashion, high-pitched and neurotic one second, macho and leering the next. But where being the funny man admittedly does take skill, it requires more to be the foil, and this is where Lukawski’s strength as an actor shone. And where Lukawski really brought it home was in his ability to inhabit a character fully, whether it was the falsetto he put on as Klara (using a violin to show “her”), or the stooped back and shaky hands of Golyadkin’s coworker.
The beauty of any Dostoevsky work is it’s so layered, it can be interpreted in any number of ways, giving theatre crews a large variety of options on how to stage an adaption. And at Tarragon, with the strong second half, it worked out pretty darn well.
The Double plays at Tarragon Theatre until Nov. 24, 2013 and tickets can be bought on their website.