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Crime and Punishment Performance Critique. Crime and Punishment- sounds like the name of a plot that is about a man who commits crime and receives a form of punishment. If only Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was that simple and shallow. The form of having just three actors play multiple characters is enthralling when Crime and Punishment gets down to the deep psychological thinking that drives this play, along with the spectacular usage of lights. The play has not only condensed the 600 page book filled with experiences and thoughts, but set them as flashes in the logically important and yet emotional borders of Raskolnikov's mind. Everything in the production supports this. The play's structure is not very linear, and its dialogue is a set of exchanges and speeches whose directness and clarity seem more universal than tied to specific a time or place. The novel's more than a dozen characters are reduced to a far lesser amount in the play and personified on stage by three actors. The use of just three actors helped the production company to accomplish their goal of focusing on Raskolnikov's psyche. Crime and Punishment, along with many other classics, all transcend their moment, their setting, and leap into the consideration of the ages. This is why the play works in almost any setting and is not restricted to late 1800's Russia.
Dostoyevsky's novel centers on Raskolnikov, an ex-law student and former teacher living in significant poverty in St. Petersburg. Raskolnikov offers his entire savings to an poor neighboring family when their father suddenly dies. To make ends meet, he offers his most important family heirlooms with the miserly and relentless pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna. Raskolnikov has long theorized that there are ordinary and extraordinary people and that the extraordinary people have a right and a 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 (rhodeisland.broadway.com). When Alyona and her sister Lizaveta, are found murdered in their home, Raskolnikov experiences increasing mental torment as he lives out the consequences of him murdering, which he did them as a means of testing that hypothesis. Raskolnikov is harassed by the detective Porfiry who knows that it was Raskolnikov who murdered both sisters.
A brief overview of the three actors who portrayed Rakolnikov, Porfiry, and Sonia as well as other supporting characters as presented by Trinity Rep and the Rhode Island Broadway website: 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, played by Dan Butler, and flashbacks to the events leading up to and immediately following the deaths of the Ivanovna sisters. His Raskolnikov breaks down from a coolly detached front to increasingly erratic behavior as he relives the crime and desperately rationalizes his actions. Dan Butler takes on multiple roles in the course of the production, and he is particularly convincing as Porfiry. The inspector's 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 obvious air of compassion, especially when Porfiry advises Raskolnikov's voluntarily confession. Like Thorne, Butler cleverly 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 gives a wonderful reading of the Biblical account of Lazarus' resurrection from the dead, which serves as a central theme through the entire play (rhodeisland.broadway.com).
The 19th century characters are reimagined in modern attire. Raskolnikov wears a dirty t-shirt, a pair of sweatpants, a grey overcoat and a baseball cap, while Christopher's and Butler's clothing change as the actors shift roles. Traversing between young and old, Christopher dresses in jeans when playing Sonia and wears a headscarf to embody the old pawnbroker, Alyona. The contemporary outfits highlight the universality of the conflicts and emotions in the psychological drama. The set design remains the same throughout the play and Raskolnikov is onstage at all times. There is a sense that the world has become compressed, underlining the claustrophobia of Raskolnikov's emotional punishment as he is trapped within the confines of his own mind. The set is one that is impressive given the small space of the theater. Video cameras, televisions, projection screens, and microphones surround the set, capturing and broadcasting the characters' every movement and emotion. Doors that open for others remain locked when Raskolnikov attempts to open, and the quick changes in lighting convey the passage of time or reflect a character's inner thoughts. There were times throughout the play that it became confusing as to what the purpose of the cameras, televisions, and microphones were. Sometimes the camera would be placed aimed at an actor speaking, but then would transfer to an object like a bouquet of flowers or candle. The microphone usage was sporadic and would be used to effectively increase the theme of digging into the psyche and when Raskolnikov was questioning himself, he would frequently talk into the microphone to emphasize his voice. Initally, it seemed as those the sets are going to be a non-stop distraction that will disrupt ones train of thought or focus. But the constant shifting of the set pieces and other furniture actually help the viewer to grasp when the play is shifting from the present to the past memories of one of the characters. The life-size crucifix hanging in the center of the stage help to reinforce the theme of a supreme being along with the constant asking of "do you believe the story of Lazarus, the man who rose from the dead?" The very minimal usage of music helped to set the mood and with the focus more on the dialogues than physical use of props helped to keep the viewer invested in what was being said rather than what was being used. These uses were critical in keeping with the overall effect of the play, which was to travel through Rakolnikov's psyche.
Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment portrays the interest in the life of the common person- not in the life of the famous, but the average human being struggling to stay alive and sane. Dostyevsky's everyman is pushed to the edge by circumstance, and it is out there, on that edge, that remarkable things happen to him. He is moved out of consideration of the ordinary and into the consideration of the divine. Raskolnikov wants to succeed and be significant. Unfortunately, his world is filled with limited promise and financial collapse. He is like so many people in the wake of the current financial crash, empowered with rage, and longing to regain his place in life. Raskolnikov is all over our world right now, so his situation concerns us as much as ever. This is where the director has made a fantastic choice for the production, because he has pushed back against the need for the historical, the need for "Russian-ness," and embraced the now.