Trinity Repertory Company's Artistic Director, Curt Columbus, and actor/playwright Marilyn Campbell tackle the daunting feat of adapting Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic work Crime and Punishment from full-length literary masterpiece to a streamlined, 90-minute theatrical experience. Under the direction of Brian Mertes and with a cast of only three actors, this bold vision comes impressively to life in the intimate Dowling Theater.
Dostoyevsky's landmark novel centers on Raskolnikov, an ex-law student and former teacher living in significantly reduced circumstances in St. Petersburg. Raskolnikov offers his entire savings, down to the last ruble, to an impoverished neighboring family when their patriarch suddenly dies. To make ends meet, he hazards his dearest family heirlooms with the miserly, inexorable pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna.
Raskolnikov has long theorized that certain "extraordinary" people have both a right and duty to rid the world of those who stand in the way of progress, arguing that the means justify the ends and counterbalance any moral censures imposed by ordinary society. When Alyona and her simple, gentle sister Lizaveta, are found gruesomely murdered in their home, Raskolnikov experiences increasing mental anguish as he lives out the consequences of testing that hypothesis.
Crime and Punishment's greatest strength is in its impeccable cast. TRC resident actor Stephen Thorne plays the idealistic, misguided, haunted Raskolnikov. Thorne delivers even the longest of Raskolnikov's complex and provocative theories with great confidence and conviction, and he transitions smoothly between his "present day" interactions with police inspector Porfiry (Dan Butler) and flashbacks to the events leading up to and immediately following the deaths of the Ivanovna sisters. His Raskolnikov breaks down by degrees from a coolly detached front to increasingly erratic behavior as he relives the crime and desperately rationalizes his actions.
Butler takes on multiple roles in the course of the production, and he particularly shines as the affable Porfiry. The inspector's "free form" inquiry leads to a fascinating cat-and-mouse game as the investigation develops. Wily and astute, the policeman employs psychological tactics to prompt Raskolnikov into an admission of his crime, yet rather than exulting in his methods, Butler tempers justice with a discernible air of compassion, especially when Porfiry advises Raskolnikov's voluntarily confession. Like Thorne, Butler deftly executes complicated monologues, and both men include the audience in their expositions and asides, often with unexpected lightheartedness in an otherwise somber tale.
Rachel Christopher also portrays several characters, from both Ivanovna sisters to Raskolnikov's doting mother. Christopher's defining role is Raskolnikov's confidante and conscience, Sonia. Sonia, though driven to prostitution by her family's poverty, retains her unwavering faith and belief in God's plan. Christopher manages this duality with sensitivity and graciousness, her Sonia radiates inner strength. Christopher gives an exceptionally lovely reading of the Biblical account of Lazarus' resurrection from the dead, a story that serves as a central motif through the entire production.
Crime and Punishment's sharp, resourceful presentation owes much to its innovative set and lighting design by Eugene Lee and Dan Scully. Video cameras, television monitors, projection screens and microphones surround the set, capturing and broadcasting the characters' every movement and emotion. Doors that open for the others remain eerily locked when Raskolnikov attempts to turn the knob, while quick changes in the sources and brightness of stage lighting (often controlled by the actors on stage) convey the passage of time or reflect the characters' inner thoughts. Furniture set along the sides of the staging creates a distinct environment to host vignettes and asides.
The first set piece to catch the eye is the nearly life-size crucifix hanging center stage. As the characters debate over the nature of conscience and entitlement, struggle with themes of redemption and morality, and frankly wrestle with issues of faith and belief in God, this inescapable Presence stands as a silent witness while the story unfolds.
Crime and Punishment plays Trinity Repertory Company's downstairs Dowling Theater through February 24, 2013. Tickets are available online at www.trinityrep.com, by phone (401) 351-4242, or by visiting the box office at 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI. Ticket prices range from $15-$68.
Photo by Mark Turek