Friday, March 13, 2015

Dasvidanya novel, Pryvet adaptation

by Jenni Morin

Russian literature is often viewed as tedious and depressing as it launches readers into a diatribe of psycho and social analysis. While Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment does not escape this perceived reputation, the 2007 adaptation by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus of the novel, now showing at The Playhouse Cellar Theater through April 5, boasts a digestible revamp of the Russian classic.

Tony Ciaravino and John Minton in Crime & Punishment
at The Playhouse. Photo by Siggi Ragnar.
Somewhat of an epilogue, Campbell and Columbus' adaptation is every bit as full of grief, intellect, guile and rapturous moral quandaries as the 1866 original. Raskolnikov, a now destitute ex-student in St. Petersburg, reasons murdering an old pawnbroker woman to rob her is worth all the lives who will benefit from her wealth. After several tricky interviews with Detective Porfiry, increasingly intimate discussions with his neighbor prostitute Sonia, remembering dreams, damning monologues and flashbacks to the murder, conversation with Sonia's father and the pawnbroker's sister Lizaveta, and letters to his mother, Raskolnikov unravels, breaking down in confession. This compressed version of Dostoyevsky's famous novel hits all the high points as Raskolnikov explains his idea of the extraordinary man capable of murder with a right to do it, how he fancies himself like Napoleon Bonaparte and murder for a higher purpose cancels out the sin of the crime. Resurrection, confession and the ever popular debate between good and evil, God and Satan, predominates the undulating theme of the play.

As Raskolnikov, Tony Ciaravino physically enacts the downward spiral of the protagonist as his self-righteous deed gnaws at his conscience. Kacey Roye (Sonia) exquisitely plays multiple distinctive well-rounded women each with an emotional timbre all their own. John Minton embodies the deceptively congenial inestigator, Porfiry, along with other characters. This relatable trio of actors propel this fast-paced adaptation into a flurry of psychological conundrums, seductive with evil brilliance.

David Rinear directs a sharp, evocative exploitation of the perilous nature of evil in a compact 75 minutes. Rinear delivers a gripping journey using the stark darkness expected of a Russian novel to illustrate the deep trenches of Raskolnikov's psyche. Megan Reilly's lighting design is incredibly focused, with spotlights, dim shadows and a bare yellowed glow representative of Raskolnikov's sickly mind. The set by Ryan DeRoos imaginatively reflects the play through a backdrop of worn doors, empty door frames and jagged platforms awash in dark hues. Both elements blend to define the small blackbox theatre into even smaller scenes, aiding in the actors' transitions from character to character, distinguishing each scene from the last and highlighting introspective moments.

The Crime and Punishment script uses several techniques to trap the audience in the vortex of Raskolnikov's criminal mind. There is repetition of key phrases, such as "God grants peace to the dead," and the nagging question if he believes in God, resurrection and the story of Lazarus, which force him to relive his crime over and over again. Raskolnikov starts out as morally justified, but by having to admit to committing a crime he did not intend--killing Lizabeta who witnessed him murdering her sister--he comes to believe he is just as morally repugnant as Sonia the prostitute, or her drunken deadbeat father, and finds camaraderie with her. Porfiry's interrogation approach is calculated as he patiently manipulates Raskolnikov to see himself as a criminal rather than an intellect above the law. Ultimately, the harshest punishment for Raskolnikov's crime is the loss of his sanity and ability to reason away his actions. Just as Dostoyevsky's contemporaries saw the work as a commentary on the younger generation, the play can serve as a warning for the detached, unsympathetic nature of today's social media consumed adolescents.

Crime and Punishment will always have relevance as it pits humanity against the nature of evil and the vast possibilities in the absence of compassion and conscience. The Playhouse's production of Crime and Punishment wraps up Dostoyevsky's novel in a succinct brooding bow. From the cast to the direction to the design, it prompts an examination of the psychology of human nature.

Crime and Punishment runs at The Playhouse Cellar Theater through April 5 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit

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