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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Crime and Punishment
Arden Theatre Company

Also see Tim's review of Always: The Love Story of Irving Berlin and Nancy's review of The Pillowman

Crime and Punishment
Christopher Donahue (standing) and Cody Nickell
Crime and Punishment in ninety minutes? With only three actors? It sounds ridiculous at first; how can such a play hope to convey the complexity of Fyodor Dostoevsky's epic novel? Well, the Arden Theatre Company's intimate production succeeds against long odds. This adaptation by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus strips the story down to the core elements of its plot, yet nothing feels absent. (If you didn't know that the central character has a mother and a sister in the novel, you won't miss them.) The production has a few dull spots and is hobbled by a lead performance that sometimes seems too carefully calculated. Yet for the most part this is an audacious and exciting production that takes a classic and makes it vivid and relevant for a modern audience.

Director Aaron Posner keeps the intensity level high as he draws the audience into the world of the antihero Raskolnikov, who believes that laws do not apply to "extraordinary" people such as himself. Posner shows off an ingenious use of stagecraft; actors switch between characters quickly, and harsh lighting (by James Leitner) comes in from all angles to accentuate the gloom of the characters' lives. Daniel Conway's claustrophobic set, with its slanted beams and murky screens, convincingly conveys the poverty of 1860s Russia and the desperate conditions that drive Raskolnikov to commit two murders. We see those murders committed, but briefly in the distance, in spurts of light that make them seem like a fever dream. When Raskolnikov gives a speech as a light swings over his head, it conveys the torment going on within Raskolnikov's head as well as any dialogue can.

Try as they might, though, the director and the adaptors can't sustain the mood all night long. Scenes between Raskolnikov and the crafty detective Porfiry sparkle, but scenes like one where Raskolnikov confesses his crimes to Sonia (the prostitute he comes to love) drag on and on, with a flatness that comes from trying to say too much.

Christopher Donahue is marvelous, underplaying beautifully as the calm, cunning detective who allows the murderer to give himself away. Donahue never adopts an air of superiority, even though it's clear that his Porfiry knows he's the only "extraordinary" person in the story. As Raskolnikov, Cody Nickell has the passion the role demands, although he sometimes goes over the top with his anguish. Julianna Zinkel plays all the female roles, but fails to make much of an impression; the characters are so underwritten that there's little for her to do but react to the two men onstage.

Still, the missteps here are minor, and Posner's bold production manages to breathe new life into a classic. If it's not a masterpiece on the level of the novel, it's still a show worth seeing.

Crime and Punishment runs through December 10, 2006 at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 North Second Street. Ticket prices range from $27 to $45 and may be purchased by calling the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, online at www.ardentheartre.org or in person at the box office.

Crime and Punishment
From the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus
Directed by Aaron Posner
Assistant Director... Anneliese Van Arsdale
Scenic Design... Daniel Conway
Costume Design... Charlotte Cloe Fox Wind
Lighting Design... James Leitner
Sound Design... Kevin Francis
Sound Operator... Mark Vanlenzuela
Stage Manger... Patricia G. Sabato

CAST:
Raskolnikov... Cody Nickell
Porfiry and others... Christopher Donahue
Sonia and others... Julianna Zinkel


Photo: Mark Garvin


-- Tim Dunleavy



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