If you find the page count or the dense subject matter of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment too intimidating, Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’s award-winning stage adaptation might be more palatable. Clocking in at a cool 90 minutes and featuring only three actors, this version boils the classic tale down to the essentials, while still preserving the cat-and-mouse dynamic the source material is so known for. This adaptation is currently being produced by Working Barn Productions at Santa Monica’s Edgemar Center for the Arts and incorporates an interesting use of live camera feeds projected on stage to add further dimension to the story.
The action is framed by an interrogation, with flashbacks to the events leading up to the fateful confrontation. Raskolnikov (Michael Trevino of television’s The Vampire Diaries and Roswell, New Mexico) is a troubled man living in poverty in St. Petersburg. He concocts a scheme to murder and rob a pawnbroker, a woman he sees as amoral and approaching death anyway, successfully convincing himself that once he has money, he will finally be able to live up to his true potential and do great things for the world. But in reality he finds himself overwhelmed by guilt and paranoia, feelings only exacerbated by his already fragile mental state. He meets his match in Inspector Porfiry (Brian Wallace), a cunning interrogator who is determined to find justice. Lola Kelly plays all of the female roles, including Sonia, Raskolnikov’s confidant and love interest.
Directed by Peter Richards, the story unfolds on a sparse set centered around the table in the interrogation room, with space on each side of the stage for the other scenes to play out. There are a few small cameras placed throughout the set, including one right on the table, that capture video of the actors in real time, feeding it onto three large screens that serve as a backdrop. As Raskolnikov ponders his fate, he occasionally speaks directly into the camera, meaning we get two views of the performance—one in the flesh, usually in profile, and the other head on and larger than life, looming over everyone and everything on the screen. There are moments when this technique is effective, such as the moment of the murder itself, when just as the killing blow is struck, the action moves just off-stage and off-camera, adding emphasis to the brutality. But at other times it is simply distracting—more than once, whether due to the angles offered or an actual technical glitch, the video feed did not seem to exactly match what was occurring onstage. If this was intentional, that was unclear, and took away from the actual work the cast was doing. When the actors were moving around, the additional image was disorienting, but it was effective during the more stationary intimate monologues, providing another window into the characters’ complicated psyches.
Trevino’s Raskolnikov is a fidgety, anxious man teetering on the brink of holding it together, one stray thought from disaster. His intensity is dialed up to 11 throughout, his mind working overtime, attempting to self-justify his despicable actions. It is an effective performance in a demanding role—he never leaves the stage, and the cameras combined with the intimate space accentuate the fact that he literally and figuratively has nowhere to hide. Derrick McDaniel’s lighting is also very effective, particularly in the intentionally abrupt transitions between the action inside the interrogation room and the flashbacks. Overall, it is easy to see why this adaptation has received such acclaim—it successfully makes a text that is often seen as intimidating accessible, and its simplicity allows the natural tension and psychological dynamics of the story to take center stage.
Crime and Punishment runs at the Edgemar Center for the Arts through May 26th. The running time is 90 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.