Review: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Adaptation for Three Actors Offers an Intense Psychological Why-Dun-It
For many students, it is a requirement to read CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoevsky. But, in my opinion, the much-too-long, repetitive text is difficult to follow as much of the action takes place within the mind of its protagonist, Raskolnikov, who admits he murdered two women and is trying to understand what lead him to do so. So, when I heard Working Barn Productions was presenting Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus's Jefferson Award-winning, three-person adaptation of the famous novel as a psychological inquiry into the troubled mind of a murderer, I thought perhaps this was the perfect way to re-visit the story.
This provocative adaptation, written for only three actors, compresses all the tension and pathos of the novel into a powerful 90 minutes of theater that is at once fresh and faithful to the original. Often spoken of as the greatest crime story ever written, it is a tale of murder, motive and redemption that plumbs the depths of the human soul. For modern audiences, imagine a 19th century Tony Soprano named Raskolnikov who fancies himself above the law - entitled to such an extent that he may decide who is worthy of life and of death. But that all ends when he meets his match in Inspector Porfiry, a master of mind games who is determined to elicit a confession from the ever-more-demented Raskolnikov.
Peter Richards directs Michael Trevino as Raskolnikov, with his portrayal being one of the most intense I have ever seen on the stage. All at once, you will feel sorry for the poor, starving man who can't catch a break or find a job, living in a squalid one-room basement invested with rats. And yet, even though he gives the last of his money to a poor family who cannot afford to bury its patriarch, he still reasons with himself as to why he had to kill two sisters in his building. And just like him, from the beginning we know he committed the murders but not why. Trevino morphs between reality and the fantasy worlds in which he imagines he wanders, often not realizing what is the truth.
Director Richard shares, "Raskolnikov exemplifies the kind of criminal who's been with us throughout history, and who we read about in the news all the time - a super-smart guy with Utopian visions, perhaps delusions of grandeur, who attempts to justify his amoral actions through lofty intellectual theories about right and wrong. But, in the end, the reasons for Raskolnikov's crimes are more basic - he's a vain, malicious and narcissistic person, believing only he knows best.
Rounding out the three-person cast are Lola Kelly as Sonia (and all the other women who come and go from Raskolnikov's life, with simple costume piece changes designed by Alex Jaeger) and Brian Wallace as Porfiry who knows he can just send Raskolnikov to prison, but instead invites him to take the difficult journey to self-discovery, because perhaps even a heinous murderer is capable of redemption. And since Dostoyevsky was a religious man (there are many references to God and Lazarus rising from the dead), the story is set within a kind of spiritual framework for justice; the idea that if one truly recognizes one's crimes, and confesses to oneself and to God, this process creates an opportunity for healing and spiritual rebirth, however unbelievable we may think such a criminal could be today.
Kelly and Wallace brilliantly change not only their appearance, but also the accent and general gait of each character they portray. Quick changes are accomplished behind two large panels at the top of two staircases at both sides of the side, stepping behind as one character and emerging from the other as someone else.
Technical credits are solid with the multi-level set designed by Pete Hickok moodily lit by Derrick McDaniel, with sound and video designer Mark Van Hare working closely with Richards to incorporate live camera feeds, projecting oversized images of the actors in real time that magnify the psychological depth and impact of their words, letting the audience see into their eyes during the performance. Most notably, the camera allows us to focus on the various emotions crossing through Raskolnikov's mind as Trevino's brilliant portrayal takes us through his deeply troubled psyche.
While the intensity of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT may be best appreciated by die-hard drama fans, the sheer inventive presentation of such a mind-boggling tale makes it an ideal way to examine how losing yourself to a character can create magic of the imagination onstage. Performances run through May 26, 2019 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm, at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, located at 2437 Main Street in Santa Monica, CA 90405. All tickets are $25, available by calling (323) 960-7822 or at www.OnStage411.com/Crime
The performances run 90 minutes with no intermission. Please read all street parking signs carefully in the area, or park in the $1 per hour Municipal Lot 11 (across the street from Blue Bottle Coffee), or in the $6 flat fee theater-adjacent lot.
Photo credit: Ed Krieger