Dostoyevsky needs 5 men (4 playing multiple roles) and 5 women (1 playing 3 roles). The unit set represents various locations in Russia and elsewhere. From an UC platform steps curve down on either side to landings from which steps descend to the stage. Under the platform central arch there is a passageway which doubles as a prison cell. DR a desk with chair; URC a bed; ULC a round wooden table with chairs; DL a bench; L an empty mirror frame; elsewhere broken and cracked old mirrors and fragments of walls onto which Russian prose is projected. Players may enter and leave unobtrusively from just about anywhere, including escape steps behind both landings and the upstage platform. Scenes flow from one to the next with no empty spaces in between.
In darkness we hear wind blowing and a murmur of voices, and as lights come up we see the shadow of a huge roulette wheel spinning and hear it whirring, the sound of the little ball clattering in the grooves along with an orchestrion version of “Ach, Du Lieber Augustin.” Marya is lying on the bed and Dostoyevsky sits at his desk writing as Old Karamazov looks out through the oval mirror and Anna and Polina sit on the steps left and right. Dostoyevsky describes his moments of inspiration before an epileptic fit strikes and we see shadows from unseen flames flickering across the stage illuminating words in Russian script on the walls. The roulette wheel spins faster as the orchestrion music gets louder and we see shadows of carousel horses whirling across the stage and hear an organ grinder playing the same song but out of sync with the orchestrion. As Dostoyevsky describes what happens in his mind, a bright searchlight moves across the stage, focusing on Pushkin and Gogol in prison under the arch. A third version of the song, played on an old and out-of-tune piano, joins the other two. As Dostoyevsky speaks, Marya, Polina, and Old Karamazov add lines in counterpoint until we hear the clatter and whistle of a train approaching, and then the sound of the cancan from “Orpheus in the Underworld,” as Turgenev, Fedosya, and Grushenka dance the cancan, arm in arm, across the stage. The searchlight gets brighter, shining directly on Dostoyevsky, as the sounds increase in volume. We hear the sound of horrible laughter and screaming as the light turns red and the carousel horses swirl demonically. Old Karamazov screams about soup spoons and a murderer as Dostoyevsky throws himself on the ground in a violent epileptic seizure and the sounds diminish until there is only the wind.
Under the central arch, in prison, Gogol, Pushkin, and Dostoyevsky talk about being shot. Dostoyevsky says the others are both dead but he is alive. Marya, Polina, and Anna throw flower petals from the top of the platform on Dostoyevsky who says that the momemts before being killed are what trouble him. Fedosya and Grushenka make “sad morning bird sounds” and Gogol says it’s dawn and they are going to die. We hear the sound of an invisible UC door opening and light shines on the three prisoners as First and Second Demons enter. Dostoyevsky hurries to his desk as Gogol is dragged off by the Demons and Pushkin tells Dostoyevsky that he is next.
Anna wakes Dostoyevsky who has fallen asleep on the floor by his desk, telling him her name is Anna. He screams for Fedosya, a servant girl, who runs in and then off to get tea as Anna tries to explain why Dostoyevsky has nightmares. The Double (a man with a potato sack over his head), Grushenka, Old Karamizov, Polina, and the Devil (walking by with a moon like a very large cookie) jabber and shout, then make bird sounds as Dostoyevsky describes being taken out of his cell and put in front of a firing squad. He says he was reprieved and sent to Siberia and that thinking of writing was all that kept him alive.
The action shifts to Siberia with Dostoyevsky eating soup with Fet, a ragged prisoner, and a less ragged Polish nobleman. They both want to kill Dostoyevsky but hand their bowls to Fedosya who leaves with them. Dostoyevsky resumes talking with Anna and then with Marya, whose drunken husband, Isayev, wants to hire Dostoyevsky to tutor his son. Marya kisses Dostoyevsky, “a long, sad kiss,” and walks away. As she and Polina watch “from other times and places,” Anna tells Dostoyevsky that he is not as bad or mysterious as he thinks he is. Old Karamazov (as Dostoyevsky’s father) drags out a suitcase full of spoons and counts them as Dostoyevsky’s mother, dead and covered with cobwebs, enters followed by The Village Idiot who speaks nonsense and is suspected by Karamazov to be Dostoyevsky’s real father. Mother says Vladimir is “just a good friend.” The Village Idiot shouts “Flapjacks” three times as they leave.
Dostoyevsky tells Anna that the serfs murdered his father and that he may put him in a novel under a different name. Marya tells Dostoyevsky that her husband has gotten a job in Kuznetsk and she will be leaving with him. She tells Dostoyevsky that he can molest his student, Grushenka, who enters and then runs off giggling, asking Dostoyevsky to catch her so they can have a biology lesson. Isayev enters to say they are leaving in the morning. As Dostoyevsky tells Anna that other writers are laughing at him, we hear Turgenev, Gogol, and Pushkin laughing as they sit at the upstage wooden table with Polina and Grushenka. Dostoyevsky accuses Turgenev of mocking him; Turgenev tells him to lighten up and enjoy his life because it will vanish in a moment. To cancan music, Turgenev and the girls dance off followed by Pushkin, Gogol, and Fedosya.
Isayev, drunk, tells Dostoyevsky that he pities him because he has to live. Marya enters laughing about getting a proposal from a 97-year-old man. She says the secret is that if you love a woman too much you can never have her. She suggests Dostoyevsky take a bath because he smells like a horse barn. Her young lover, Verganov, looks on as she wonders why she can’t have more than one husband, since she loves Verganov but may want to marry Dostoyevsky. She asks Dostoyevsky to write a letter of recommendation for Verganov so he can get a better job and they can afford to marry.
Dostoyevsky tells Anna that he has to finish his novel and he paces, muttering, as we hear “Ach, Du Lieber Augustin” and orchestrion music, see the shadow of the roulette wheel turning, and watch Old Karamazov counting spoons as Fedosya dusts him. The Double with potato sack appears in the mirror, the Devil walks by finishing the cookie moon, Gogol waltzes with Grushenka, and Marya and Polina waltz together. Lights fade out on Act One.
Act Two begins in darkness as we hear the orchestrion version of “Ach, du Lieber Augustin” and see the whirling shadows of the carousel/roulette wheel. We hear the sound of a train whistle and a train rushing by as lights come up on Tolstoy sitting on a bench on a railway platform. Dostoyevsky asks him why he is there and Tolstoy says he is waiting for Anna Karenina. Dostoyevsky tells him he is the historian of a dead era and that they must write about individual suffering. Old Karamazov enters with his suitcase full of soup spoons, blaming God for stealing them. Karenina comes on and says she has an overwhelming impulse to throw herself under an oncoming train. We hear a whistle and a train approaching as Karenina runs toward the approaching train followed by Tolstoy and Old Karamazov. We hear the sound of a train going by as the lights go out.
Anna turns on a light in Dostoyevsky’s study and tells him he has been screaming in his sleep again. She gives him her grandmother’s recipe to drink and asks what happened to Dostoyevsky’s wife, Marya (who enters and lies on the bed upstage), and her young lover. The scene shifts to the “fatal” wedding night as Marya urges Dostoyevsky to get into bed and Old Karamazov sticks his head out shouting for his soup spoons. Dostoyevsky experiences an epileptic fit and we hear carousel music, an owl, wings flapping and see the shadow of the running roulette wheel/carousel. Contorting himself on the floor, Dostoyevsky says the firing squad is coming for him and the potato-sack-headed Double appears in the mirror. Dostoyevsky asks Fedosya for his clown shoes and she brings him a large pair. He asks for and gets her round fake red nose, but Gogol runs on, takes the nose, and puts it on before running off. Marya runs out to get help and Dostoyevsky and The Double talk about writing as betrayal and truth being made of lies. The Double says that he and Dostoyevsky are the same creature and cancel each other out. When The Double takes a soup spoon from his pocket, Old Karmazov starts to strangle him and Third Demon drags Dostoyevsky away, hurling him violently upstage as we hear the sound of a cell door slamming in the darkness.
Anna and Dostoyevsky talk about how Marya reacted to his epileptic fit on their wedding night and Polina and Dostoyevsky re-enact their first meeting as Anna and Marya watch. Dostoyevsky then tells Anna that he was very lonely as he and Polina re-enact their meeting in Paris, Dostoyevsky explaining that he was late because he stopped in Wiesbaden to play roulette. She says he has come too late, that she is seeing a Spaniard, although she thinks he may be seeing someone else. Dostoyevsky suggests they travel to Italy as brother and sister and Polina takes off her dress and lies on the bed to take a nap.
Dostoyevsky explains to Anna why gambling on the roulette wheel is so addictive, that in a universe of chance we live in a perpetual state of uncertainty with gambling, women, and writing. She wishes him good luck with writing because he really stinks at the other two. Lights fade to night and we hear a ticking clock as Dostoyevsky learns from Polina that he is, to her, like a cockroach. The Double enters, potato sack on his head, and gives Dostoyevsky a letter. Dostoyevsky says his wife is dying and leaves, followed by The Double, as Marya takes Polina’s place on the bed. Marya thinks she sees something up above and we hear a flapping sound and see shadows moving overhead. She says that the Devil has eaten the moon.
Anna and Dostoyevsky talk about love and he says the artist is like the spider whose web is destroyed at night by a bat. He says he was humiliated by having to ask Turgenev for money after his wife died, and the scene shifts to the two men at a table in a tavern, Dostoyevsky “eating ravenously.” Fedosya brings the bill and Turgenev puts a wad of money on the table, telling Dostoyevsky to pay the bill and keep the rest. Dostoyevsky tells Polina that she is a good writer and he wants to sleep with her. She says he is like a vampire and she needs to get away from him. As she leaves, he says he doesn’t need anybody. Suddenly, we see a flash of lightning and hear thunder. Lights flicker and dim. Old Karamazov points at Dostoyevsky as Third and Fourth Demons appear upstage. Dostoyevsky denies stealing soup spoons but starts emptying his pockets as more and more soup spoons fall out. We see another massive lightning bolt and hear a deep clap of thunder as the Demons throw Dostoyevsky into the cell. After the sound of an iron door clanging shut, darkness.
A shaft of moonlight falls on Dostoyevsky in the cell and we hear the sounds of rats and dripping water and, faintly, the orchestrion sounds of “Ach, Du Lieber Augustin.” Four of the women sit with Dostoevsky and we hear the cell door creaking open. Dostoyevsky asks The Double who he is and tells him he has to choose, that life is a gamble and the game is rigged. In roulette he says he puts everything on black, then changes his mind to red, then back to black. We hear the sound of the roulette wheel being turned, the little ball hopping around and falling into a slot. The Double says, “Red. We have red.” Old Karamazov says, “READY. AIM. FIRE.” We hear the sound of a firing squad shooting, and the lights black out.
Lights come up on Dostoyevsky curled up on the floor and Anna asks why he has been screaming like a maniac. He says she is to write down what he says and copy out what he writes. He says he sees three possible roads—playing the roulette wheel, getting married, and going to Constantinople. He asks Anna to marry him and she says that first they will finish the book and then spin the wheel and see what happens. He starts dictating as she writes but the music and roulette wheel sounds return as the other characters appear like figures in his head and the lights dim and go out.