To begin with, you’ve got to put in check your reflexive associations. The moment you hear the title Crime and Punishment, something onerous takes hold of you: the forbidding name, the 600-page tome in your high school backpack that you never got through, St. Petersburg, Siberia, darkly twisted musings on mortality and faith, cruelty and corruption, justice and redemption — all drab as a Russian winter. While not exactly “criminal,” it would certainly be sad to let this scramble of associations keep you away from a tight, engaging, and deeply satisfying evening of theater.
Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’s pared-down 2004 adaptation of the Dostoyevsky classic has seen many productions these past eight years for good reason. With unsparing focus, and with only three actors, it isolates the essential tale of a young man’s struggle to arrest his psychological and spiritual free fall, and presents the most substantial dialogues in softly merging sequences that flex the novel’s chronology. The effect is to blur act and recollection and identify the audience with protagonist Raskolnikov’s desperate mind.
In the present production, this identification is smartly, if sparingly, suggested by an enclosing set of frosted windows that catch the light and shadow beyond yet bar clarity. The main acting requirement for the success of this play is a balanced and convincing conflict in Raskolnikov’s person. Brian Patrick Monahan’s disgruntled and loose-cannon intellectual preys upon, but never entirely devours, the vulnerable boy — wherein abides the seed for his redemption. Peter Van Norden effortlessly inhabits the cunning, if compassionate, Inspector Porfiry — think Sir Anthony Hopkins-meets-Columbo. (Indeed, as I found out only later, Columbo was modeled from this very character!) Finally, Kwana Martinez powerfully portrays Sonia, the prostitute who has invested her real love in faith.
It is true that this tale has darkness, but, as Dostoyevsky wrote, “The darker the night, the brighter the stars.”