She's a gorgeous parasite, a kept woman and a deranged femme fatale, but Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov, from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, is not easy to pigeonhole. Director Viacheslav Dolgachev and Moscow New Drama Theatre have taken on the Siberia-sized task of improvising a wake for NasArttasya, with her aimless lovers Rogozhin and Myshkin feverishly reliving their relationships with the slain woman. 

In The Idiot, Nastasya wins over the two men with her sex, her money and her heart. Myshkin, quixotic, frail and pure, has such pity and compassion for Nastasya that he offers to marry her. But the ardent Rogozhin, a merchant who can go tit for tat with Nastasya's impulsiveness, is so enamored that he tries to murder Myshkin and eventually kills Nastasya. It is here that the play Nastasya Filippovna begins.

Dolgachev will attempt to stretch that harried tone over the full course of Nastasya Filippovna, receiving its U.S. premiere at Artists Repertory Theatre. The adaptable Mikhail Kalinichev plays Myshkin, while "the struggle between light and dark around us and inside each one of us" motivates Andrey Kurilov as Rogozhin, Dolgachev says via email. 

Examining Nastasya through the eyes of her suitors in an improvised performance stems from a play by famed Polish director Andrzej Wajda, whose actors memorized the entire text of The Idiot. But this production takes it a step further: Kurilov and Kalinichev have not only memorized the novel, but they may not utter anything outside the original Russian text. They may, however, deliver scenes in any order. "Each character can turn the plot in any direction at any time," Dolgachev says, "so they're creating a plot right before your eyes." To assist the English-speaking audience, segments of the play have been put in blocks and subtitled, but the actors' ability to warp the original plot line remains.

Nastasya Filippovna is not necessarily upbeat, even by Russian theater standards. But seeing one of Russia's best novels dramatized by a fine troupe from Moscow offers a rare and unusual opportunity for Portland audiences. And for those who don't trust translations, the final show will forgo English subtitles, Dolgachev says, "performed as it is performed in Moscow, as a total, unpredictable improvisation."

SEE IT: Nastasya Filippovna is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, Jan. 9-13. Sunday's show will be performed without subtitles. $25.