- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Contemplating taking in a stage version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1866 masterpiece “Crime and Punishment” may prompt you to pack lunch and dinner. Round House Theatre realizes that audiences sometimes prefer their theater — and literary adaptations — in bite-size portions and has shrink-wrapped the 700-page novel into a 90-minute, zero-percent-body-fat drama that is swift and devastating.

No philosophical meanderings about the mind of a murderer or unhurried inquiries into the nature of “extraordinary” men. Adaptors Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus have honed the action into a lean and mean interrogation-style courtroom drama — think “Law and Order” with complicated Russian names — and focused on three main characters, portrayed by a trio of actors who also assume minor roles upon occasion.

Directed with polished urgency by Blake Robison, “Crime and Punishment” largely takes place in the byzantine brain of Raskolnikov (Aubrey Deeker), a poor and desperate student who spends his days in solitary, feverish thought. He has concocted a theory that exceptional men are not bound by the same laws that keep the great unwashed in place. Great men, such as Napoleon and Sir Isaac Newton, have an inner right to commit crimes if the ultimate outcome benefits mankind.

Raskolnikov (a name derived from the Russian word “raskol,” or “schism”) is two people living in the same body — the brilliant, inquisitive scholar and the coldblooded killer. He has deemed himself one of these extraordinary men and in a fit of frustration mingled with the irrational desire to rid the world of pure evil, savagely murders an old woman, an avaricious pawnbroker (Tonya Beckman Ross). Society arguably may be a better place without her, but what of the murder of the witness, the pawnbroker’s sweet and cosseted younger sister Lizabeta (also Miss Beckman Ross)?

Afterward, Raskolnikov’s conscience revolts, and a battle seethes in his head between cool rationalism and the empathetic side of his personality. Redemption comes in the form of his love, Sonia (Miss Beckman Ross), a self- sacrificial, Christ-like figure who shines like a saint but works as a prostitute. The third major figure is the magisterial Porfiry (Mitchell Hebert), the detective working on the murder cases, who gently leads Raskolnikov to confession.

“Crime and Punishment,” set in a cold, industrial space of metal grating and blinding shafts of light, distills most of Dostoyevsky’s novel to quick flashbacks leading up to Raskolnikov’s admission of guilt. At times, the play seems too efficient, and it would behoove audiences to have more than a passing knowledge of the novel to grasp the myriad subtleties and back stories.

The actors are exceptional in their conveying of character in a few deft strokes, particularly Miss Beckman Ross — who transforms herself from the luminous Sonia into a different kind of goodness to play Lizabeta. (She finds another type of selfless devotion to portray Raskolnikov’s mother.) Mr. Hebert is patient and masterful as Porfiry and possesses a ruined charm as Sonia’s alcoholic father. As Raskolnikov, Mr. Deeker exudes hungry-eyed skittishness, but we never see beyond the pathological wariness.

Nuance and psychological layers mostly are missing in this “Crime and Punishment,” and the characters are archetypes rather than portraits of conflicted souls.

Sonia represents the Madonna/whore, Raskolnikov the humanist devil, Porfiry the compassionate judge.

Everything is presented in shorthand, so much so that Raskolnikov’s final confession — first to Sonia and then to Porfiry — profoundly lacks any sense of redemption.

It is a catharsis without meaning or faith, which ultimately is as empty and soulless as Raskolnikov’s crime.

***

WHAT: “Crime and Punishment,” adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

WHERE: Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through April 29.

TICKETS: $25 to $55

PHONE: 240/644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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