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Berkeley Rep's Crime and Punishment Cliffs Notes

Can a 718 page novel of classic Russian literature be compressed into a 90 minute play? The short answer is no.

Well, Mary Zimmerman probably could. Zimmerman translated Ovid into a satisfying 90 minuter that went from Berkeley to Broadway. But Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus – who adapted Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment into the Berkeley rep chamber play that opened last night – are no Mary Zimmerman.  Zimmerman distilled Homer and Ovid to their thematic essences and then spiked them with surprisingly flavors to make them new, bold and contemporary.

Campbell and Columbus’s adaptation of Crime and Punishment is truncated, not distilled. The 3-actor play skims through the skeletal plot of the novel, while director Sharon Ott (she had been Berkeley Rep’s artistic director for 13 years) injects some Kafka-esque textures - nightmarish flourishes to reveal Raskolnikov’s angst and gnawing guilt.

Christopher Barreca's set and Stephen Strawbridge’s conspicuous lighting ornament the minimalist plot and flat ruminations with lots of mood. The set is a nifty cascade of rickety doors leaning in and climbing up to the rafters – closing in on the action. Characters open and shut the doors on and above the stage, (while Raskolnikov remains caged in his tiny quarters). Strobe lights and slo-mo dramatics agitate, lines are re-uttered for impact’s sake. Simulated hatcheting is staged from varying angles.

All in all, the big bag ‘o stage-magic is certainly utilized for maximum theatricality.

Tyler Pierce is suitably overwrought as the poor and increasingly desperate student Raskolnikov. (You can watch his desperation increase because his hair gets more and more in his eyes and he doesn’t brush it away). J.R. Horne plays the inspector as a kindly Santa Clause of a Columbo type of detective. He engages Raskolnikov in an intellectual conversation of equals – as he waits for the student to crack and confess to a double murder.

Balancing and sometimes dropping one or more of her three variations on a Russian accent, Delia MacDougall plays Raskolnikov’s poor wretch of a neighbor, forced to sell her body to feed her siblings – and buy booze for her good for nothing father.

After Raskolnikov comes up with about 4 different hypothetical reasons he killed the pawnbroker, Sonya points out that he really doesn’t know why he did it, he has murdered for some vague attempt to put theory in practice. Was it for the money? Could such a crime be justified if the money could save many lives? Does it then became a mere mathematical equation? Do extraordinarily men operate on a different plane of moral law? The notions of philosophy and moral relativism are given short shrift and rendered superficial. We all discussed this far more deeply on a late night college bender.