I sit here frowning. How to approach a critical response to such a work as the theatrical adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment? As a novel, I slogged through it as a teenager, grasping some of it, confounded by the rest. What is the difficulty? It is emotionally stressful, with its depiction of grinding poverty, insane hubris, the horror of brutal murder, the inevitability of retribution, and the slim possibility of redemption. Adaptors Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus stripped down the novel’s five hundred plus pages into an award winning script for a ninety-minute play.
Under the direction of Peter Richards, Working Barn Productions delivers a tight condensation of Crime and Punishment with a cast of three led by Michael Trevino as Raskolnikov, a young impoverished intellectual at war with his situation of indebtedness, frustration, and resentment that led him to murder an old, female pawnbroker and her sister. This is not a whodunit. An audience will know at once that Raskolnikov is a criminal, since he is at the outset under interrogation by a police investigator.
Mr. Trevino dominates in a whirlwind of emotion as he prowls the stage hunched and anguished in his guilt and resentment. His head bends and shakes in desperation. He has more tender moments with the female characters, except for the hunched old pawnbroker. His emotional anguish surges out as in a Greek tragedy, when the corresponding emotions of sorrow and pity infects those in the audience.
Brian Wallace plays the inspector Porfiry (and others), who sniffs out the murderer’s guilt in slow, steady increments. Lola Kelly takes on the role of Sonia (and others), a woman who prostitutes herself to provide for her family and develops a fragile relationship with Raskolnikov.
Performed on a bare bones set by Pete Hickok, Crime and Punishment is enhanced by sound and projection designer Mark Van Hare’s three enormous video screens that project the action, first in a view looking straight down at the stage, and later in giant, high-def images of Raskolnikov and others that suggest his alienation. Pretty cool is the term that comes to mind. Lighting designer Derrick McDaniel keeps focus on Raskolnikov as he roams the stage. Costumes by Alex Jaeger enhance character, period and action. The production is skillfully managed by Karen Schleifer.
Produced by Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners and presented by Working Barn Productions, Crime and Punishment continues its run through May 26 at Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St. in Santa Monica.