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Theater Mon Feb 10 2014

Crime and Punishment: A Gripping 90 Minutes at Mary-Arrchie Theatre

CrimeandPunishment-GB.jpg

Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Mary-Arrchie Theatre takes on a difficult task in staging this 2003 adaptation of the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel, Crime and Punishment. But with intelligent direction by Richard Cotovsky, this talented and respected off-Loop theater gives the audience a gripping 90 minutes. We meet Raskolnikov (a strong performance by Ed Porter), the poor, sickly, arrogant former law student who commits the crime, suffers guilt and psychological trauma and, finally, punishment.

Two Chicago playwrights--Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus--wrote the adaptation, which was originally produced by Writers Theatre in Glencoe on their tiny back-of-the-bookstore stage, with Scott Parkinson playing Raskolnikov. It has since been produced many times, including off-Broadway and in regional theaters.

The scene is 19th century St. Petersburg. We meet Raskolnikov in the office of Porfiry (Jack McCabe), the police magistrate who is investigating the murders of Alonya, a pawnbroker, and her sister, Lizaveta. Porfiry suspects Raskolnikov of the crime but plays psychological games with him throughout the play. In this first scene, he seems to befriend the suspect and tells him admiringly that he has read his article on the difference between ordinary and extraordinary men. He queries Raskolnikov on his views, which sets up the philosophical thesis that carries through the play. Raskolnikov believes that an extraordinary man has the right to go beyond the law to fulfill his goals. A great leader may have to break the law for the good of humanity, he says.

The scene shifts to Raskolnikov's garret. For the rest of the play, the action goes back and forth from before the crime to its aftermath. His friend Sonia (Maureen Yasko), a young Christian woman and a prostitute who works to support her family, visits him to thank him for providing money for her father's funeral. He chides her for her sex work but in later scenes they acknowledge their love. He asks her to leave St. Petersburg with him. We also meet Sonia's alcoholic father, Marmeladov, and Raskolnikov's mother, who gives him money and worries about him. In his need for money, Raskolnikov deals with the miserly pawnbroker and her sister. And later he murders them both with an ax that he conceals in his long coat.

McCabe plays three male roles and Yasko four female roles. Quick character changes are signaled by the actors putting on or taking off coats and shawls. This usually works and it's the way the playwrights envisioned the play being done. But it's not always satisfactory; sometimes Yasko doesn't quite carry off the changes. And McCabe, who should be playing a strong role as Porfiry, is sometimes too soft-spoken and diffident.

As Raskolnikov, Porter conveys the mindset of the intellectual whose goals outstrip his ability to carry them out. He is by turns nervous, moody, antisocial and at other times sympathetic and caring (for Sonia, Lizaveta and his mother).

The compact stage design by John Holt is limited to the magistrate's office on one side and the garret on the other. Other space serves as the pawnbroker's shop and Sonia's room. Raskolnikov's monologues are delivered center stage. Clever use of doors and Claire Sangster's lighting design highlight movement of actors from one scene to another.

Crime and Punishment is a crime novel but it's also a story of ideas. This is conveyed by the poetic language of the play, which begins: "Do you believe in Lazarus, rising from the dead?" This line is reprised near the end when Sonia reads the Bible story of Lazarus to Raskolnikov, perhaps giving them both a sense of hope.

Some other examples of the language:

Raskolnikov: "God grants peace to the dead, but to the living he grants nothing."

Porfiry: "What kind of work do you do?"
Raskolnikov: "I think."
Porfiry: "Is there much money in that?"

Raskolnikov: "What can I do? I have no money. No one wants to pay for knowledge."

Raskolnikov: "Would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?"

Near the end, Porfiry says: "Who am I? I'm a man whose time is up. You're a different man. Life is in front of you."

Raskolnikov: "I wanted to be Napoleon. I needed to know I wasn't an insect, like all the rest."
Porfiry: "We all think of ourselves as Napoleon."

Porfiry: "[You've committed] a whole new kind of crime. A modern crime, by a bookish dreamer."

Both the language and Raskolnikov's mental quandary make this an arresting theater experience. The play condenses the long Russian novel into a manageable story.

Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. will present Crime and Punishment through March 16 at Angel Island, 731 W. Sheridan Ave. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-871-0442. For more information, see the theater company website or go here.

 
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Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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