February 9, 2014 - While the Chicago winter churns along outside, the cold second-floor space that houses the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company heats up with Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus' three-person take on Dostoyevsky's classic tale, Crime and Punishment.
Defying the expectations of many current (and former) high school students, this adaptation somehow feels incredibly relevant for today's audiences. By distilling Crime and Punishment into its most essential characters and plot points, Campbell and Columbus' script stays true to the original novel and is accessible to theatergoers who might otherwise be daunted by the title alone.
The epic tale of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment focuses on the struggle between morals and intellect, power and weakness, the ordinary and the extraordinary. Having committed one murder in the name of altruism and a second by happenstance, Raskolnikov is confused—too smart for his own good, more impulsive than he wants to admit. He doesn't know where to turn, and so he's tormented by his actions, punishing himself far more effectively than anyone else could.
The entire production rests squarely on the shoulders of the immensely gifted and powerful Ed Porter as Raskolnikov. Porter is not only physically present in every scene, he's emotionally present, too. Moving through the production completely consumed by the character and circumstance, Porter is mesmerizing to watch. His emotion is palpable and raw, drawing the audience in with every word. Porter gives himself over to the role, and we reap the reward.
Playing multiple roles in this small-cast and streamlined adaption are Jack McCabe and Maureen Yasko. McCabe is stoic and effective as Porfiry, the investigator charged with solving the murders at the heart of the story. Yasko is surefooted as Sonia, a prostitute and Raskolnikov's confidante, but less compelling in some minor roles.
The production is relatively simple, relying on a basic box set to become a variety of locations with the help of only about a dozen lighting instruments. The power of Mary-Arrchie's Crime and Punishment lies in that simplicity, however. By allowing the 148 year-old story to unfold without fussing over it unnecessarily, the bleakness of the play's world is brought into sharp focus. Things aren't prettified nor should they be. The economy of design is not only necessary in such a small theater space, it's essential to the show's effectiveness.
Mary-Arrchie's Crime and Punishment is not without its challenges. Even in a brilliantly concise script, the pacing is slow in points. Likewise, the transitions from one scene to the next are occasionally clunky. However, these are challenges that are likely to be met as the run continues. With a talented supporting cast and a superb leading man, the production will only tighten.
Crime and Punishment is an excellent take on a literary classic. Clever, well-acted, and well-deserving of the audiences that are sure to come and enjoy this fine bit of theater.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
(L-R) Jack McCabe and Ed Porter in Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.’s production of Crime and Punishment, based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus (photo by Emily Schwartz).