As voluminous Russian novels go, none could be boiled down to a 90-minute stage adaptation with unsurprising economy as well as Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, which Trinity Repertory Company is proving with authority and imagination (through February 24).
COMPLEX CHARACTer Thorne in Crime and Punishment.
We enjoyed an excellent production at the Gamm in 2005, the year before Curt Columbus, this version's co-author with playwright Marilyn Campbell, came aboard as Trinity's artistic director. This time around it's getting an even more interesting rendition, as director Brian Mertes and set designer Eugene Lee worked to bring out its psychological dimension.
The tormenting persistence of inner demons is precisely what allows this tale to compress with such exquisite tension. A young man rationalizes committing a horrific crime and is assaulted with uncertainties and guilt as a result. The essence of the story is closer to a haiku than a novel.
In 19th-century St. Petersburg, Rodion Raskolnikov (Stephen Thorne) is embittered by his poverty, too poor to even continue his studies at university. To get by he has been pawning his possessions to a greedy old woman, which tempts him with an idea. Why should such a worthless person as she live when killing her and taking her money would allow him to thrive and perhaps do good in the world?
We never even see the old woman, only the kindly sister whom Raskolnikov unfortunately murders as well because she witnessed the crime. She is played by Rachel Christopher, who also plays Sonia, Raskolnikov's only friend, forced into prostitution to feed her family. Dan Butler plays several incidental characters but mainly portrays Porfiry, a police inspector who comes to suspect Raskolnikov of committing the crime. The young man had written an article that proposed dividing men into ordinary drones and extraordinary worthies, the latter having "an inner right" to "overstep boundaries." That attracts the inspector's attention.
The playwrights and especially the director skillfully make the action parallel Raskolnikov's antic thoughts, fragmenting the narrative without confusing us, making the action judder and shift abruptly when appropriate to heighten the emotion of the moment. Designer Lee pulls us out of the period, making most visual cues decidedly un-Russian to emphasize the universality of Raskolnikov's narcissistic mindset; the stage is cluttered with bric-a-brac, as messy a place as the young man's skull. The only naturalistic element is a floral stuffed armchair out of your grandmother's parlor, unless you include the life-sized crucifix, complete with suffering savior. (The back wall being covered with rugs and quilts is a head-scratcher, though.)
Christopher is convincingly sympathetic as Sonia, the character remaining a loyal friend to him because he brought her dying father in from the street. He also gave her family his last kopeck, though he was going hungry himself. Butler beautifully accomplishes his tricky role as the canny police inspector, who needs to convince the wary Raskolnikov of his growing friendship, all the while maintaining the tension of a trap set to spring on the murderer.