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A strong argument for "Punishment"
Seattle Times theater critic
Reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," one could swear it was written in tears and bile rather than ink.
This tumultuous 1866 novel was far ahead of its time in depicting a character, the impoverished student Raskolnikov, who imagines himself a "superman" unbound by the usual moral and religious laws of his society.
Any good dramatization of the book (and there have been many) should hurtle us into the fevered moral confusion of Raskolnikov's mind (his name is a play on the Russian word for "divided") after he murders a pawnbroker and her sister.
The temperature of this 80-minute, lean-yet-muscular version of "Crime and Punishment," co-adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus and staged by Sheila Daniels at Capitol Hill Arts Center, is scorching.
First presented at the Readers' Theatre in Chicago, the script has been performed around the country prior to this run by the new Seattle group Theater Under Ground. Its popularity is no surprise, given that it requires only three actors, re-creates the most dramatic scenes of the book and crosscuts ably between present-time scenes and flashbacks.
Galen Joseph Osier plays Raskolnikov, and his intensity is ferocious from the start and never becomes static. This actor — new to me as a leading player — immerses himself entirely in the anguished mind and exhausted body of Raskolnikov, a highly intelligent young man who attempts to redefine his paltry existence with a heinous act of bloodletting.
Osier is in view almost nonstop in the show — which whips along on a narrow strip of stage between two elevated banks of seats, using simple white curtains and strategic lighting to define the many scenes.
Playing opposite Osier in numerous guises is Hana Lass, who is maturing into a very flexible actress. Here she's equally convincing as the poignant prostitute Sonia, Raskolnikov's lifeline to love, and as Alena Ivanovna, the exploitive pawnbroker he decides to kill.
Mark Fullerton also shifts guises adeptly from the cool, careful detective trying to coax a confession out of Raskolnikov to Sonia's pathetic, alcoholic wreck of a father.
Dostoyevsky's book (the first of his best novels) was written, amazingly, decades before Frederich Nietzsche fully articulated the notion of a morally superior "superman" — and before Freud published his own theories about the ego and super-ego.
It also anticipates the radicalism that would jolt Russia and the atheism that would lead to the 20th-century existential dilemmas articulated by other great modern thinkers.
This stage adaptation follows through on Raskolnikov's shattering yet liberating act of confession. That it does not go further to portray his imprisonment and repentance in no way diminishes the power of the story, or the psychic impact of Daniels' production.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company