‘Crime and Punishment’ reinvents classic novel into fast-paced psychodrama

Rachel Holtzman, Reporter

Three actors will perform the classic novel “Crime and Punishment” as a fast-paced psychological drama that explores the implications of murder, the justice system and the need for redemption.

The play, directed by second-year directing graduate student Jeffrey Mosser, will premiere Friday in the Wallis Theater as part of the 2017 MFA Lab Series. “Crime and Punishment,” by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, follows the story of Raskolnikov, a university dropout who murders two women and must grapple with the psychological implications of his actions. This adaptation was written by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus to be performed by three actors.

Communication senior Dani Stompor, who plays Raskolnikov, said the play is particularly character-based. The audience gets a good look at what is happening inside Raskolnikov’s head as he wrestles with his own actions and the criminal justice system in 1890s Russia, Stompor said.

“The way that Jeff has framed this story from the beginning is in the framework of grace and redemption,” said Tatyana Aravena, who plays all of the show’s female characters, including Raskolnikov’s mother and the two female victims. “We try to tackle the specifics of why this crime is committed and how. Even if we don’t agree with Raskolnikov’s decision, we might recognize the humanity and desperation of that act.”

Because each actor is onstage continuously for almost the entire run of the show, Mosser worked very closely with the cast in making sure they support one another and stay in the moment. The play is performed “in the round” — a setup in which the audience surrounds the stage on all sides — to make the setting more intimate.

The staging forces the audience to be close witnesses to Raskolnikov’s crimes, as they are let into his mind and have to ponder on the rationality of his actions, Aravena said.

“Characters have to evolve, and the audience watches,” she said. “It’s kind of a summoning; it feels like a ritualistic thing. A huge element of the book is this call for different perspectives, and we’re really embodying that.”

However, Mosser said the bulk of the play fleshes out Raskolnikov’s own perspective.

“A big part of this play is how Raskolnikov remembers the moments he most regrets,” he said. “We have a sparse stage, and every object is part of a memory … (and) a necessary, important part of the story.”

Stompor said Raskolnikov is a lost character who, in many ways, struggles with feeling ignored and out of control. They added that Raskolnikov thinks his ability to convince even a single person, whether they are in the audience or the cast, may justify his actions.

Mosser added by the play’s end, Raskolnikov lapses into guilt and seeks redemption. Thus, the play gives the actors and audience a chance to think about the paradoxes in their own morality, Aravena said.

“We’ve all likely had that experience of … not knowing if it was somewhat right or somewhat wrong, but still having to make that call,” she said. “Having the entire audience look inward to the stage can result in introspection for each of them that will highlight why it’s impossible to purely label anyone as good or bad.”

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