The original Guide for the Perplexed is a lengthy treatise on scriptural terms by Moses Maimonides (1135–1205), the great Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages. But the only middle age about which Paul Magid, the author of this show, wishes to zanily philosophize is his own as he turns 50. Magid, also known as Dmitri of the Flying Karamazov Brothers—the comedy and juggling quartet he helped to found in 1973 at age 19—is joined in this, their latest rambling and remarkable stage venture, by his co-founding "brother" Ivan (Howard Jay Patterson, who also wrote the lyrics for the show's songs) along with younger and newer brothers Alexei (Mark Ettinger, composer of the music as well) and Pavel (Roderick Kimball).
The framing premise for their revue of madcap skits, songs, and juggling acts (directed by Michael Preston) is that the graying Dmitri has mysteriously come into possession of this ancient tome of wisdom. His revelation that the book is written in Ladino, a Jewish dialect of Spanish, set the audience laughing as though they'd never heard of anything so patently absurd, whereas that language is in fact one Maimonides spoke. But lest you uncharitably assume that pearls are being flung before swine here, know that nothing of the philosopher's work is used in the show save its interesting title. The narrative basis more closely hews to Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man speech, "All the world's a stage," which is indeed sung during the show, cleverly set in as many contrasting musical styles. The imaginary Jewish book provides a dozen or so aphorisms—ranging from facetious through satirical to semiserious—each prefacing a sketch or variety act, such as "Everyone drops" (juggling as metaphor), "Don't mention budget cuts" (political zinger), and, finally, "You end alone in the light" (theatrical mysticism). Though the show seems to strive toward profundity, in an offhand manner, the overwhelming mood is profound silliness. But whatever you make of the skits (some of them astonishingly extravagant, featuring exotic costumes by Carolyn Keim, choreography by Doug Elkins, clever settings by Bliss Kolb, lighted by David Hutson, with sound by Mark Ettinger) and the gags—including pie-in-the-face and potty humor—anything can be forgiven during the frequent jaw-dropping intervals of group juggling. With balls or Indian clubs in their hands, the Flying Karamazov Brothers are simply awe-inspiring.
"Life: A Guide for the Perplexed," presented by the San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. Wed.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 2 & 7 pm. Jan. 14-Feb. 6. $26.50-41.50. (619) 544-1000.