The end of exceptionalism
Crime & Punishment
The Ooley Theatre2007 28th St.
Sacramento, CA 95818
When a massive 19th-century novel of ideas is the source for a 90-minute stage adaptation, expect some trimming down. In this case, though, playwrights Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus have left us with, not a skeleton of Dostoevsky’s novel, but a lean and muscular play that uncovers the weaknesses in nihilism and makes the lowliest people sublimely human. Crime & Punishment, in a new production by KOLT Run Creations, remains a timely unmasking of the concept of “exceptionalism,” whether we are talking about intellectuals, bankers or nations.
The central character, Raskolnikov, played with grace and intelligence by Brian Rife, is a poor student of law and philosophy. His portrayal of Raskolnikov avoids a devolution into the stereotypical murderous “superman”; instead, Rife uses gestures and body language to show how the student attempts to cling to his ideas even as his conscience and heart are forcing him to face the reality of his crime. The play abandons—quite wisely—chronology in favor of a narrative made up of the policeman’s investigation (Porfiry, played by local veteran Patrick Murphy, who plays the inspector as subtle, intuitive and thoughtful) interspersed with Raskolnikov’s memories of the events that led up to the murder of a pawnbroker and her gentle sister.
All the female roles are played by Kelley Ogden: Sonia, the prostitute that Raskolnikov both loathes and loves; as well as the pawnbroker; her sister; and Raskolnikov’s mother. If Rife is the backbone of the show, his Raskolnikov both tortured and arrogant, then Ogden is its heart. Her Sonia retains her pride, refusing to apologize for the work she does to support her stepmother and younger siblings, but she also shows great compassion in her love for the pawnbroker’s sister and her willingness to sacrifice for and forgive Raskolnikov, if only he can explain his actions.
But in addition to fantastic acting in a well-constructed play—choices which reflect the power of director Lisa Thew’s vision—this production of Crime & Punishment benefits from original music, played onstage by violinist Patrick Claypool. His presence is never obtrusive; he functions as a sort of musical chorus that highlights the emotional content of each scene, directing our attention to the underlying sympathies and yearnings of the characters.
And the set is a character in itself, gray and oppressive, reflecting the urge to despair to which the characters must either succumb or resist. Designed by director Thew, the set also contains some remarkable work by Nastassya Ferns and lighting director Jarrod Bodensteiner, who is credited with the two prominent doors. These doors, which are functional, are also skewed in the sort of madman’s nightmare vision one might see in a Tim Burton film. We can believe in Raskolnikov’s tilted view of the world, at least for a while, if only because the world does in fact seem a bit tilted.
KOLT Run Creations has now assembled a short list (Keely & Du, Lips) of intriguing work with political overtones. With Crime & Punishment, the company opens up an entirely new arena of classic theater engaged fully with ideas. It’s a good move, and this production ought not be missed by any fan of classic drama.