Adapted by James Fagan Tait
from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
NeWorld Theatre / PuSh co-production
in association with Vancouver Moving Theatre
Roundhouse Community Centre
January 27 - February 6
Nineteenth century Russian fiction has an excellent track record
on Canadian stages. Nothing
Sacred, George F. Walker's adaptation
of Turgenev's Fathers and Sons,
was a huge hit in Canadian (and U.S.) regional theatres in the
late1980s. Directed by Morris
Panych, it was revived last summer to great reviews at the Shaw
Festival. Panych's own adaptation of Gogol's The
had national and international success since its Vancouver Playhouse
debut in the late '90s. Dostoevsky's The
Brothers Karamazov opens
at Stratford this summer in a new adaptation by Jason Sherman.
Dostoevsky's other greatest novel, Crime
and Punishment, provides
the centrepiece for local theatre at this year's PuSh Festival.
Produced by Camyar Chai's innovative NeWorld Theatre in conjunction
with Vancouver Moving Theatre, adapted and directed by the offbeat
and always interesting James Fagan Tait, featuring a premiere
cast of 22 with live music and a first-rate design team, Crime
and Punishment is a solid and sometimes spectacular rendering
of the brilliant book. What it lacks in intensity and psychological
acuity, it makes up for with strong acting, beautiful music,
and an intelligent, uncompromising theatrical narrative.
If Karamazov was Dostoevsky's King
Lear, his Hamlet was Crime
and Punishment. It explores the psychological and spiritual
condition of Raskalnikov, played here with dynamism and sensitivity
by the attractive Kevin MacDonald. A young ex-student in St.
Petersburg in 1865, he murders an old pawnbroker (Laara Sadiq),
in part out of poverty, resentment and perhaps mental illness,
in part because he has developed a Nietzschean philosophy that "a
man can give himself permission to do anything." Other
key characters in the adaptation include the two suitors of Raskalnikov's
sister Dunya (Kerry Davidson), the snooty civil servant Luzhin
(Allan Zinyk) and the smarmy wife-murderer Svidrigailov (Alex
Ferguson), a sort of double for Raskalnikov. There's also a neighbour
(Richard Newman) whose appalling drunkenness leads to his family's
degradation and the prostitution of the eldest daughter, Sonya,
who plays Mary Magdalene to Raskalnikov's inverted Jesus; and
the police inspector (Tom Pickett) who investigates the murder
and eventually realizes Raskalnikov's guilt. But most of the
novel's drama is internal, providing the major challenge to a
Tait solves that problem in a simple yet hauntingly effective
way. At regular intervals the entire cast formally arrays itself
in rows onstage and quietly sings the internal torment of Raskalnikov,
and eventually Svidrigailov, accompanied by eerie music from
an onstage trio's electric vibraphone, stand up bass and violin.
These choral numbers, which also cleverly take care of the play's
exposition, represent a collective version of the conscience
which, in the novel much more clearly than in the play, Raskalnikov
can't finally deny. The play is much muddier about both his motivations
for the crime and the compulsions that drive him to his punishment.
As effective as it is, Tait ultimately relies too heavily on
this unvarying choral format, so that by the middle of the long
second act the device loses its novelty.
As much as I admired
the stark, monochromatic, fluid staging that moved the story
along, shifting from choral presentation
to semi-naturalistic scene work (furnishings are minimal,
props are mimed), I kept looking for a more varied, more radically
imaginative, expressionistic style. Raskalnikov's inner intensity
and incipient madness call for a more explosive theatricality
than Tait explores here. As well, that crucial intensity,
quality most evident in the novel, gets seriously diluted
in this production by the sheer length of the evening (three
plus), extended unnecessarily by Tait's decision to follow
too many strands of subplot too late in the structure.
It's a shame to lose the powerful momentum of Raskalnikov's pursuit
of his punishment.
Still, this is an
admirable, ambitious and exciting play. The performances
are terrific throughout. In addition to the actors
I've mentioned, standouts include Patti Allan as Raskalnikov's
mother and especially Andrew McKee as his jocular best friend.
Mara Gottler's dark, drab costumes are perfect, and Joelysa Pankanea's
original score and musical direction, as well as her performance
(I think) on vibes and percussion, are crucial elements in the
show's success. The strange decision not to print programs has
left me guessing at some of these credits.