Theatre Review: “Crime and Punishment” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

LtR - Jenny McKnight, Andrew Ahrens, and Peter DeFaria in "Crime and Punishment" at the IRT

“Do you believe in Lazarus?”

“What?”

“Do you believe that a man can be resurrected?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Does it matter?”

“It might.”

So begins “Crime and Punishment” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.  This exciting and streamlined adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s massive novel was written by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus and directed by John Green.  I have not read the novel, or even the Cliffs Notes, so I can’t tell you how this show compares to the original literature.  I can tell you that it is an engrossing evening of theatre.  When I saw the show on Sunday evening, February 15, I was weeping by the end, and on my feet applauding before the three actors had even taken their first bow.

 

During the Prologue (a talk given 45 minutes before each performance by someone involved with the show), actor Jenny McNight told us that this piece is not an attempt to present the novel.  Rather, it is a distillation of the novel that explores its key themes.  The novel is hundreds of pages long and includes more than forty characters.  In this 90-minute production, three actors play seven characters.

McNight said that the spine of the play is a series of interrogations of the main character, Raskolnikov (Andrew Ahrens), by a police inspector, Porfiry (Peter Defaria.)  A mere word will set off a memory in Raskolnikov’s mind, and we go there with him…until we are drawn back into the interrogation.

I was glad to have had this explanation ahead of time, but I think that even without it, the piece would have been easy to follow, Russian names and all.  The actors portray their various characters in various times and locations brilliantly.  The transitions back and forth between them are breathtakingly seamless. A flip of a shawl, the removal of a coat…and it’s as if a completely different person is standing there.

Porfiry, the handsome, rough-voiced police inspector, thinks the starving intellectual, Raskolnikov, killed a female pawnbroker and another woman.  He urges him to confess.  Raskolnikov refuses, but we re-live the events with him in his mind and hear his agonizing and the justifications he gives to Sonia, the prostitute in his building.  

Jenny McKnight plays the compassionate Sonia, plus the two creepy murdered women, plus Raskolnikov’s unbearably pitiful mother.  Peter Defaria plays Sonia’s scruffy, drunken father in addition to the tidy inspector.

And Andrew Ahrens’s complex portrayal of Raskolnikov…Well, at first it brought out the mother in me:  I wanted to gather him into my lap and feed him hot soup while I put his long, grimy coat through the washer.  However, I stopped short of being willing to follow him to prison the way Sonia was.  His talk about extraordinary men being allowed to commit crimes if their crimes paved the way for saving thousands of other people gave me the willies.  “All great men are criminals, like Napoleon,” he says.  “Their bloodshed gives them strength…God grants peace to the dead…”  Comments like these made me glad he didn’t live in my neighborhood after all.

But at some point, his tortured journey became my journey, and my salvation, too.  Oh, my goodness, what a powerful experience that was.

The design elements are excellent as well, and perfectly blended.

The program will tell you that the setting is St. Petersburg & Siberia in the 1860s, but even before you find your seat, a huge iconic painting of a Madonna on something like a barn wall at the back of the stage is immediately striking as you enter the IRT’s Upperstage space.  The rest of the set seems very simple at first – just a table in one corner, a cot in another.  But the cot becomes a coffin, and the wall divulges portals to memory.  Light slashes across an old woman’s eyes.  Petals drift down like snow.   Voices murmur in the background.  Subtle drips and buzzing noises, plus ominous music just barely at the level of consciousness, all serve to trouble one’s mind.  Sometimes the Fourth Wall falls away and Raskolnikov appeals directly to the audience, and yet there is an ethereal quality to everything, too.   

This is an introspective play, yet just when you think you might not be following all of the philosophical conversation after all, something startlingly active happens and you are pulled right back into the story.

Robert M. Koharchik was the scenic designer.   Joel Ebarb was the costume designer.  (I especially loved the men’s coats!)  Ryan Koharchik was the lighting designer.  Todd Mack Reischman was the sound designer.  Richard J. Roberts was the dramaturg.  Amy K. Denkmann is the stage manager. Casting was by Claire Simon and Teresa Thoma of Claire Simon Casting.  Adam Noble was the fight choreographer.  David Hochoy was the movement advisor.

In the Prologue, Jenny McKnight told us that this play was first produced in Chicago three years ago.  (My program says, more specifically, the Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois.)  Then it went to New York with the same cast.  The IRT’s production is only the fourth or fifth production of this adaptation.

I feel lucky to have seen it.

By the way, the ushers will tell you that since the show is 90 minutes without intermission, you may bring your cup of coffee or glass of wine from the lobby bar into the theatre.  However, my advice is to get there early enough to buy a drink and maybe a gourmet chocolate or two and bring them into the Prologue with you.  Then, in the twenty or so minutes between the end of the Prologue and the curtain talk for the show, use the restroom and go back into the theatre empty-handed!

“Crime and Punishment” continues on the IRT’s Upperstage through Sunday afternoon, March 8, 2009.  To make a reservation, please visit the website or call the IRT ticket office at 317-635-5252.

This show is presented by the IRT’s artistic director, Janet Allen, and the IRT’s managing director, Steven Stolen.  One America is the 2008-2009 season sponsor.  KPMG (us.kpmg.com) is the associate sponsor.  Additional sponsors include the National Endowment for the Arts, the Indiana Arts Commission, and the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

Director John Green is also chair of the Department of Theatre at Butler University.  My experience at “Crime and Punishment” makes me want to try harder to somehow fit some Butler shows into my calendar, too.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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