"Between thought and expression lies a lifetime," warbled a youthful, troubled Lou Reed 40-plus years ago. A century before, Fyodor Dostoevsky penned his mind-grenade Crime and Punishment, his own foray into the breach between cognition and the real world, a work so unsettling that it still knocks us out of the saddle. Ten Thousand Things' reimagining of that novel, Raskol, delivers music, humor, and wrenching depth—and an acknowledgement that the messy events of our lives are matched only by the riot of what happens in our heads.
The inherent problem writer Kira Obolonsky faces in adapting the novel is that so much of it takes place inside Raskolnikov's fevered brain (here he's called Raskol, portrayed with controlled intensity by Kris Nelson). The script wisely dispenses with many of the mental machinations that occur before he murders his pawnbroker and her sister; the action opens with Raskol in the immediate aftermath of his dirty deed, with his hands stained red and the enormity of his crime dawning across his features.
Ten Thousand Things Theater
at MN Opera Center through May 24
Raskol clearly can't dispense with its title character's inner battles, but we're also given a welcome reminder that the source novel was staunchly urban, and materialistic, with constant references to St. Petersburg and Raskol's alarming financial situation (he's as effective a money manager as a murderer). Director Michelle Hensley's production keeps matters focused squarely on the here and now, leaving Nelson to (quite effectively) project the snake eating its own tail in Raskol's head.
It's not that Dostoevsky couldn't be a bore; the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold Sonya (Tracey Maloney) might as well be a figment of Raskol's steamy imagination (if we didn't know better), and his dealings with his widowed mother (Karen Wiese-Thompson) and sister Dunya (Lisa Clair) are hard to rescue from melodrama. Dunya's suitor Leonard Wolf, though, maintains our interest throughout primarily due to Craig Johnson's oily, shifty portrayal.
Very quickly, the play begins to feel like more than the sum of its parts. With seven actors playing more than 20 roles, the show at times feels like a quick-change version of the blur of city life. More welcome still is a recurrent vein of unhinged humor, with Luverne Seifert crashing about as Raskol's drunken lout of a friend, and Clair biting into such fragmentary roles as a police clerk, a ghost, and a budding socialist.
Here we also find the self-satire often lost when approaching Dostoevsky. (In my own experience in Russia, people there are very sly and funny indeed, once you get over the misapprehension that everyone is yelling at you for no good reason.) Peter Vitale's musical compositions heighten the effect. Vitale plays keyboards and wind instruments and beats on garbage cans, accompanied by Nathan Hanson on sax and Chris Bates on bass, creating free-jazz skronk and tick-tock percussion that fill in the emotional blanks and propel the intensity forward without resorting to anything as unwise as a stop-everything explicative song.
Probably the most notable praise for Raskol is that it tackles the same stuff as Dostoevksy (and Reed): the gulf between life as we apprehend it and the way things actually play out. This production feels as alive, and relevant, as if it had been created from scratch (despite its obvious loyalty to, and affection for, its source). At the end, Nelson and Maloney circle one another, with Raskol staring down Siberia and Sonya promising never to leave him. They gaze into the abyss of the future, the same life sentence, really, that we all face. Raskol, for his part, decides that he can do his time. It's as true and affirmative a declaration as any of us can muster, whatever felonies and misdemeanors might be listed on our own personal rap sheets.