CRIME AND PUNISHEMENT REVIEWED BY JEFFREY R SMITH

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

 

Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

 

For better of for worse, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, as performed on the Berkeley Rep stage, leaves few surprises for those erudite members of the audience who have waded through all 482 pages of the thick Russian prose of Dostoevsky's existential novel.

 

To refresh your memories: college dropout: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, motivated by his compassion for Sonia, a prostitute, and while in the throes of depressed delusional doldrums, executes a very premeditated double murder of the miserly Pawn Broker: Alyona Ivanovna and her half-sister: Lizaveta.

 

Immediately following the profitless axe murders, to ensure he gets caught, Raskolnikov begins a self-incriminating flirtation with Police Investigator Porfiry Petrovich.

 

Raskolnikov was not psychologically adjusted to the sordid, cruel, unseemly world of inequities and poverty he witnessed in Petersburg.

 

Unable to constructively imagine a better world, Raskolnikov mentally writes an equation: A hundred thousand good deeds--purchased with stolen money--versus the "life of a sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman . . . a louse, a black-beetle, indeed less than a black-beetle . . . an old woman doing harm . . . she severely bit the finger of Lizaveta."

 

As he is running down the human worth of the Pawnbroker, Raskolnikov busily elevates himself, in delusions of grandeur, to the magnitude of a Napoleon.

 

Secretly, the Russians always wished that the French, under Napoleon, had conquered them and liberated them from the Byzantine mantel they inherited following the Fall of Constantinople 1453.

 

Dehumanizing his victim while lionizing himself, the otherwise virtuous Raskolnikov takes to cleaving obstructing skulls with an axe.

 

Tyler Pierce is nothing short of stunning as Raskolnikov: the audience can nearly smell his acrid sociopathic sweat and feel his guilty, racing pulse.

 

The tri-dextrous J.R. Horne is triple cast as Inspector Porfiry, Sonia's father: Marmelodov and a Tradesman; he does a remarkable job at all three characters.

 

If there is a departure from the traditional characters of Dostoevsky it surfaces with the liberties Sharon Ott has taken with Porfiry: this Detective has a curious propensity, or as the French would say: a penchant, to frequently and inexplicably touch Raskolnikov.

 

Delia MacDougall magically recasts herself four times: Sonia the prostitute, Alyona the pawnbroker, Raskolnikov's mother and the hapless Lizaveta.

 

The set design, by Christopher Barreca, serves as a fitting metaphor for not only the plot but for the multifaceted, conflicted mind of Raskolnikov.

 

Sound design, by Cliff Caruthers, jolts the audience from one scene to the next; crackling the transitions like the fried ganglia that make up the landscape of Raskolnikov's tortured consciousness.

 

In the absence of any set changes, the lighting design, by Stephen Strawbridge, kaleidoscopes the audience, like sparks across synapses fueled by Pure Sandoz, through the fractured homicidal dreamscape of Raskolnikov.

 

In a sense, we have the Czar of Russia to thank for CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: Dostoevsky was about to be executed for "taking part in conversations against the censorship, of reading a letter from Byelinsky to Gogol, and of knowing of the intention to set up a printing press."

 

After months of imprisonment in the gulag equivalent to Guantanamo Bay, the seditious Dostoevsky was dragged before a firing squad; only seconds before the fatal volley was to be fired, "the troops beat a tattoo . . . his majesty, the Czar, had spared . . ." the life of Dostoevsky.

 

Such a close brush with death spurred Dostoevsky to make a vow that he would not waste a single minute of his life; he became more prolific than any extant Russian writer or artist save a paleolithic cave painter near the southern shore of Lake Baikal.

 

For the brilliantly staged equivalent of CLIFF'S NOTES on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, call the Berkeley Rep box office at 510-647-2949 or click on berkeleyrep.org.



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