When you enter Trinity Rep’s Dowling Theater these evenings you just can’t miss the mess. Designer Eugene Lee has outdone himself, creating a scene that looks like a teenager’s bedroom on a very bad day. The walls are covered with large carpets, all conflicting in tone and color. There’s a distinctly un-comfortable looking iron bed. Lamps from all eras abound. A Danish modern table, a keyboard from when, the 1960s, maybe? And above all is a huge crucifix, on which the murdered Jesus is nailed.
Lee’s work surely lets you know that this will not be your average evening at the theater.
Enter then a man wearing an ankle-length overcoat and a black baseball cap. Soon another, in a pseudo Soviet style military uniform arrives, forcefully. And “Crime and Punishment” begins. It is an eager, driven, sometimes magnetic, but ultimately disappointing new look at Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s century and a half old Russian tale of one man struggling mightily with his own demons and a disapproving, disappointing uncaring world.
You will possibly remember that Dostoyevsky’s man is driven with his needs to prove himself as he copes with a malevolent society. He’s aided by a woman who has given all and risked all and there’s a policeman, both very human and very self-interested. And, in this Trinity version, that’s it. All of the others in the original novel are gone, or are played by the three actors.
Adapted by actor/writer Marilyn Campbell and Trinity artistic director Curt Columbus, the idea is to shorten and sharpen Dostoyevsky’s work for the 21st Century stage, while still getting at the question of possible redemption, of the belief in a God.
Directed swiftly by Brian Mertes, this production can sometimes rise to it desires for incisive penetration of the sprawling original. He is aided by three splendid actors. As the hero, Trinity’s Stephen Thorne is a wide-eyed whirlwind. Whether he protesting that great men can do terrible things or falling into the depths of despair, Thorne is powerful in his weakness and needs.
Once a Trinity regular back in the magnetic days when Adrian Hall was driving Trinity to the top, Dan Butler returns to give a terrific performance. His canny and practical policeman is at once a bureaucratic timeserver and a man able to cope with all sorts of issues. Rachel Christopher is both long-suffering and a full-sighted woman who asks all the right questions and does the right things in a power- laden performance.
But the problem arrives when this rapid-fire production becomes too dependent on its need to jam oh-so-much into so little time. The forced curtailment of the mighty novel is filled with sublime moments. But in the end it is overwhelmed to the point of colorlessness. Too much is crammed into too little time. The result is a work that – despite its good moments – does not fly.
Want to Go?
“Crime and Punishment” continues at Trinity Rep through February 24th.
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