Theater Spotlight: Crime and Punishment

John Riedlinger, Stacia Rice star in Crime and Punishment
Michal Daniel

Adapting one of Dostoyevsky's literary mind mazes for the stage comes with a couple of major impediments. First, there's the sprawling scope and elaborate parade of characters that populate many of his major works. Next, perhaps more daunting, is the fact that so much of the action takes place inside characters' heads or in the narrative itself: great plummeting moods, labyrinthine insights, high-wire cockamamie cognitive gambits. Playwrights Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus skirt these obstacles, sensibly enough, by trimming Crime and Punishment into something that, here, is performed by three actors in 90 minutes. Avoiding any number of possible digressions, they focus entirely on the agonies of Raskolnikov (John Riedlinger), who churns in psychic terror after committing a double murder and shits bricks every time he has to talk to police inspector Porfiry (Steve Hendrickson, dry as a desert, one step from a gentle priest awaiting confession). Director Joel Sass's production extracts the flop-sweat desperation that was one of the prime attractions of the source material, though we're also reminded that old Fyodor wasn't famous for his female characters. A nimble Stacia Rice plays four of them, including the heinous pawnbroker Aloyna Ivanova, her doormat sister Lizaveta, and a cardboard cutout of Raskolnikov's long-suffering mother. The most important of the four roles is Sonia, an early example of the hooker with a heart of gold (Rice gives Riedlinger room to expand Raskolnikov, with him circling Sonia in spirit, alternating between the haughty pomposity that got him in trouble in the first place and an increasingly crushed sense of inevitability). The pace picks up even more when we see the murders re-enacted (compelling Rice to perform a stage switcheroo in which she's axed to death twice), and Porfiry shows up unexpected at Raskolnikov's crappy pad. From here we cannot escape from Dostoyevsky's ending, and we're reminded why he is remembered as a far greater prose writer than philosopher (set up a straw man of liberal Western thought, then proclaim hardcore utopian Orthodox Christianity the only answer? Sign me up!). Here his narrative is presented with passion and credibility; his Slavophile tendencies we'll leave in the 19th century.

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