Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. By Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus. Directed by Richard Cotovsky. With Ed Porter, Jack McCabe, Maureen Yasko. 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
Anticipation should not be an emotion associated with Russian literature.
And yet, here we are.
Much has been said already about Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’ masterful adaptation of Crime and Punishment since it debuted at Writers Theatre in 2003. It seamlessly transforms Dostoyevsky’s classic into a nonlinear psychological thriller that retains every theme of the original novel. A cast of just three actors portrays seven characters as the destitute student Raskolnikov (Ed Porter) is unravelled after murdering an old woman, and confronts the grim moral realities of an unjust, unfair existence.
It’s a demanding but already-proven work, and so my attention was entirely on the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. production and if its cast could do it justice. Five minutes into Inspector Porfiry’s (Jack McCabe) interrogation, the entire audience was palpably excited. Hooked. Present in a way few heavy dramas can demand from their opening moments.
The cast fades entirely into the text. When Porter’s Raskolnikov delivers a monologue he is not an actor giving a speech, but an author revealing different sides of a man. His sensitive, feverish soul is pit against the sad, resentful figure he is on the outside. McCabe’s Porfiry weaves patience and a weathered resistance to the world’s ills in his matter-of-fact cadence, and every word—no matter how inconsequential—reminds us of the inevitability of punishment. And Sonia (Maureen Yasko) feebly throws scripture up against an endless tide of suffering, and though paper-thin, her defenses hold.
While Crime and Punishment will throw a lot of ethical questions and philosophy at you, they’re communicated through emotions and small gestures. The portrayal of a genuine and sympathetic human experience sells the cerebral drama in a way few other productions can. In one noteworthy moment, all it takes is a buzzing fly to suggest that murder may have no greater motivation than mere annoyance.
No one does misery like the Russians. Their questions of salvation, punishment and morality are more interesting than ours because they dispense with idealism from the outset. Money and ethics are inherently linked. Charity can be an act of insanity. They acknowledge all that is horrible in life while straining to find a right answer amid dark, crushing realities.
Director Richard Cotovsky's production delivers the whole gulag of pain without ever wallowing in morosity. They nail the most important thing of all, and that's Dostoevsky's ho-hum, smirking tone that never lets Crime and Punishment become mired in self-importance or delusions of grandeur. Honestly, feel free to pull a Game of Thrones: Skip the book and jump straight to this play.