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Crime and Punishment
Repertory Theater of Saint Louis

Also see Richard's review of Gutenberg! The Musical!

There is a good deal to like about the production of Crime and Punishment now running in the Studio Theater at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. Authors Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus have crafted a tight one-act play that focuses narrowly on the interaction between a murderer, Raskolnikov, and a detective who knows but can't prove that the man is guilty.  A more-or-less saintly prostitute, whose family Raskolnikov has befriended, serves as an anchor to hold him in the rational world as his inner demons push him toward insanity. The progress of the story is erratic, as it shifts about in time, but it moves gradually toward an eminently logical and powerful resolution.

The setting, by Gianni Downs, makes excellent use of the limited space in the Studio. The walls of the monochromatic set are built of old doors, several of which are practicable, allowing for some very effective surprise entrances. In the space delineated by these walls are stacked—or rather piled, since there is no apparent order—dozens of wooden chairs. The structure seems flimsy, but is not; the actor playing Raskolnikov climbs the heap at several points, again, to good and surprising dramatic effect. There is also a cleverly incorporated pool of water, which unfortunately is not within the sight lines from the back rows of seats. The costumes by Garth Dunbar are relentlessly depressing, matching the mood of the evening; we expect Raskolnikov's apparel to be threadbare and dirty, and the prostitute Sonia would logically not be overly well-dressed, but putting the inspector in clothes that are almost as dirty and decrepit may be going a step too far.

Jimmy King as Raskolnikov, Triney Sandoval as the inspector and also (and less effectively) as an obnoxious drunk, and Amy Landon as Sonia as well as, briefly, the murder victims work well together. The acting tends to be mannered; gestures and hesitations seem to be carefully executed and carefully repeated, echoing perhaps the structure of the script, which moves randomly, but is given coherence by repetition of certain phrases and ideas.

What is bothersome to me about this production is the decision by playwrights Campbell and Columbus to retain the title Crime and Punishment and to use the qualifying phrase "based on the novel." Some years ago I was criticized for objecting to the use of the title Charley's Aunt for a production featuring a well-known but faded star who completely co-opted the script, leaving barely a shred of the original story. My point was that using the original title constituted a gross disservice to the original playwright, Brandon Thomas, as well as misleading advertising. Campbell and Columbus are specific in denying that their play captures Dostoyevsky's novel, and they are right, in spades; missing are, among others, Raskolnikov's essential friend Razumikhin, Raskolnikov's sister and her fiancé,  and Sonia's family (except for an exaggerated caricature of her father). Important—no, crucial—events in Dostoyevsky's story are reversed in order. The entire theme of Raskolnikov's self-imposed exile from the human race is simply not considered. Why, then, do they use his title?

Granted, a full dramatic reconstruction of Dostoyevsky's novel would take a lot longer than ninety minutes. My argument is that trying to condense it to this extent renders it a fundamentally different story, one with a certain dramatic power to be sure, but not, by any means, the same as the story Dostoyevsky wrote. It is not fair to the patrons, and not fair to the ghost of Dostoyevsky, to promote this play by attaching to it the name of a great novel with which it has little more in common than the names of the characters. 

Crime and Punishment will run through March 28 in the studio space at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis; for ticket information call 968-7340 or visit www.repstl.org.

Crime and Punishment
by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus
Based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Directed by Stuart Carden
Produced by the Repertory Theater of St. Louis  


-- Robert Boyd

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