Criminal Extract 

Murderous Crime And Punishment Distilled At Cleveland Play House

Working with an admirably lean adaptation by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, three actors portray all the parts in a distilled, 90-minute verson of Dosteovsky's Crime and Punishment, on stage now at the Cleveland Play House. They offer a compelling, if at times slightly fuzzy, retelling of the hefty tale.

Starting like any police procedural on TV, detective Porfiry questions Raskolnikov about the murder of a lady pawnbroker and her sister. He combines the oblique interrogation techniques of Columbo with a seemingly jolly personality. But Raskolnikov seems nervous, his attention divided. Soon, our suspect is having flashbacks in which he visits Sonia, a religious young woman turning tricks to support her family, whom Raskolnikov helped financially. He also has memories of the nasty pawnbroker who stiffed him on a deal for his father's watch. These dreams torment him until he relives the double murder, reconnects with faith and finally comes clean.

Necessarily, the compacted format sacrifices character nuances, but in some ways it enhances the power of the themes. Under Anders Cato's tight direction, Paul Anthony Stewart's Raskolnikov is particularly effective when he emerges from a cloud of guilt to riff on his theory of how extraordinary people need not obey the moral strictures governing most of humanity.

As the dogged but unfailingly polite Porfiry, Patrick Husted offers some needed comic relief, although his other parts are less well defined. And Lethia Nall draws sharp distinctions between her several characters. Lee Savage's towering yet sparse set adds to the mordant mood, with a faint drawing of the crucifixion on a scrim hanging center stage through which we see the murders reenacted. Nice touch, that.

Despite some blurring of Raskolnikov's psychological crisis, this Crime and Punishment has undeniable power and surprising theatrical relevance.


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