Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” is an epic Russian novel of philosophical exploration and psychological realism, with a panoply of characters appearing over the course of its more than 500 pages. Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’ 2004 stage adaptation, on the other hand, runs about 90 minutes, with only three performers.
The narrative compression of Campbell and Columbus’ “Crime and Punishment” is almost experimental in nature, attempting to tell Dostoevsky’s story within a minimal amount of time, and this aspect of the text totally informs Penfold Theatre’s new production of the play (running through April 6 at Ground Floor Theatre).
This adaptation entirely centers on the novel’s protagonist, a poor intellectual named Raskolnikov, as he deals with the repercussions of a recent brutal murder. The play freely jumps around in time, initially revolving around Raskolnikov’s interrogation by a detective named Porfiry and then entering memories of the past, moving from scene to scene with the rapidity demanded by such a narrative exercise.
Necessarily, such a version of the story is low on exposition, relying on the actors to showcase the nature of each character. Director Jeremy Lee Cudd puts that onus on his cast, who (accompanied by a soundscape from Lowell Bartholomee and atmospheric lighting designed by Rachel Atkinson on a minimalist set created by Ia Ensterä) are fortunately up to the task.
As Raskolnikov, Ryan Crowder is a poet of misery, painting the inner agony of his psychological disturbances upon the canvas of his expressive face. As Porfiry, Ben Wolfe is a perfect foil, full of charm and confidence that at first seems naïve but slowly shows the detective’s great conviction. Finally, Chelsea Manasseri provides the play’s emotional realism as Sonia, the woman with whom Raskolnikov is infatuated, in a quietly moving performance that is more deliberately subdued than either Crowder’s or Wolfe’s.
Dialogue is not exactly the strong suit of this play; Campbell and Columbus’ text is at its strongest when the characters are expressing the broader philosophical and religious ideals that guide them, and so this is when the actors are at their best. As a result, and because of the intentionally disjointed chronology, much of the play feels emotionally disconnected (which may well be a deliberate statement about Raskolnikov’s mental state).
Penfold’s “Crime & Punishment,” then, is something of a jewel — a technically flawless presentation that creates a thing of beauty, but one that is somewhat cold and hard to pierce. It is an intriguing exploration of Dostoevsky’s novel that explores its big ideas at the expense of an emotional hook to draw the audience in, but a talented cast provides three rock-solid performances that shine with multi-faceted nuance.