Crime and Punishment
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 6, 2007
The most exciting thing about Writers' Theatre's production of Crime and Punishment, now playing at 59E59 as part of their mini-festival of Chicago theatre, is the performance of Scott Parkinson as Raskolnikov. His character, as you may know, is going through an exquisite moral crisis: he robbed and killed an old pawnbroker, and despite having both theoretical and practical reasons to justify this action, he is literally insane with guilt and remorse and regret; at the same time, he's trying very hard not to get caught, but a policeman named Porfiry seems to know, from their very first meeting, that he's the murderer. Parkinson shows us the conflicting emotions inside this tortured soul and mind, boldly and in great detail. The play emerges most successfully as a character study, zooming in on this fellow who is trying to escape the reckonings—internal and external—that loom before him.
This is a 90-minute adaptation of a very long novel, and the choice of adaptors Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus seems to have been to focus on their fascinating hero's cat-and-mouse with Porfiry and his own conscience. Until the very end, in fact, it seemed to me that the entire play was taking place in Raskolnikov's mind, during the seconds just before his apprehension. The narrative flashes back and forth through time and space, unfolding at Porfiry's office and various other locations; key moments and phrases repeat, or seem to trigger other events that Raskolnikov might be remembering. Unfortunately, this conceit seemed to fall apart in the final scenes, to be replaced suddenly by something more linear. Michael Halberstam's direction doesn't always support this idea, either; and Eugene Lee's unit set—a simple room bounded by walls and many doors—makes it difficult for the actors to drift in and out fluidly, as they would through a man's thoughts, instead forcing them to slam on or off stage or, occasionally, to careen onto the set horror-movie-style via revolving doorways.
Susan Bennett plays Sonia, the prostitute who becomes Raskolnikov's confidante and redeemer, along with various other women, including the victim and her sister. Bennett is particularly fine as the grizzled old pawnbroker; but her Sonia doesn't have the luminous perfect soul that such a character requires, and she proves hard to care about. John Judd similarly fails to make Porfiry the worthy adversary to Parkinson's dynamic Raskolnikov that he needs to be.
I confess that I've never read Crime and Punishment, and I'm afraid that this dramatization didn't stir enough curiosity in me to rush out and get a copy (and that's notwithstanding a director's note in the program that explicitly hopes for that very outcome). Nor do I feel that this is a theatre piece with much in it beyond its rich and detailed portrait of its conflicted protagonist.