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Crime and Punishment Theatre Review - Dostoevsky's Epic Literary Masterpiece Translates Well at A Noise Within

By Peter A. Balaskas

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Raskolnikov (Michael A. Newcomer) admits his sins to Porfiry (Robertson Dean) at the urgings of Sonia (Holly Hawkins)

(Glendale, CA) October 17, 2009 – Webster’s Dictionary defines “extraordinary” as 1) going beyond what is customary; 2) exceptional to a very marked extent, remarkable; and 3) sent on a special function.  These three definitions certainly apply to a student named Raskolnikov, the conflicted protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. His own extraordinary journey of poverty, desperation, and drive to satisfy his own vanity results in him committing the ultimate mortal sin of murder. In the 600 page epic, the reader is witness not only to his eternal struggle, but also the landscape of the majestic Russian settings. However, courtesy of Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, this literary masterpiece was adapted into a 90 minute voyage into the character’s subconscious. These talented playwrights expertly distilled the essence of Raskolnikov and his deeds and transformed this tale into an abstract dream/memory play. This experiment worked two years ago at its debut, and it also works at the Glendale-based A Noise Within. This streamlined CRIME AND PUNISHMENT carefully examines the concepts of good and evil, actions and reactions, and especially choices and consequences, thanks to the talented actors and the tight, crisp direction of Craig Belknap.

Lizaveta (Holly Hawkins) witnesses Raskolnikov's (Michael A. Newcomer) crime

The play begins with a haunted Raskolnikov ( Michael A. Newcomer) curled in a fetal position on a small couch, with only a sole spotlight illuminating the area as though he were on a life raft, surrounded by the darkness of his sins. He whimpers and spasms, tormented by the guilt of murdering an elderly pawn broker and her kind sister (both portrayed by Holly Hawkins). And as various light cues reveal all the events that led to this act, as well as what occurs afterwards that results in his capture, we see the various characters that influence his every actions, most notably the “prostitute with a heart of gold,” Sonia ( Hawkins), her alcoholic father, and Porfiry, a detective investigating the murder case (both played by Robertson Dean). Through Porfiry, we are suddenly aware of Raskolnikov’s philosophy regarding his definition of “extraordinary,” meaning that he feels that “extraordinary” individuals may indeed have the right to commit crimes---no matter how brutal they are---in order to satisfy higher goals for the masses (the core foundation of Communism and Socialism). But through Sonia, Raskolnikov reveals his conflict regarding the existence of God, and this conflict evolves into guilt and resulting despair.

Detective Porfiry (Robertson Dean ) confronts Raskolnikov (Michael A. Newcomer)

Thankfully, Crime and Punishment runs continuously without an intermission. Having a break in the middle of this beautiful play would ruin the dream-like effect of Raskolnikov’s journey. And the fluidic direction of Craig Belnap enhances the effect even more. His utilization of perfectly synched lighting cues, period musical scores, and the abstract scenery (bravo to an incredible job by lighting designer James Taylor, scenic designer Michael Smith, and sound designer Bill Froggatt) draws the viewer into the story, especially when the house lights are turned on and Raskolnikov addresses the audience as though we were his confessors.

Along with the superior direction and technical craftsmanship, the acting drives the play like a maddening pulse. Newcomer’s portrayal of this writer/murderer is truly dynamic. His mercurial energy moves non-stop throughout the 90 minute performance, slowly revealing subtle layers regarding Raskolnikov’s passion, guilt, obsession, and defeat. But this is far from a one man show. Holly Hawkins and Robertson Dean shine in their own right in their respective multiple roles. Hawkins brings out the stinginess of Alyona (the pawn broker), as well as the kindness from Alyona’s sister and Raskolnikov’s mother. But her portrayal of Sonia is one that combines her hunger for survival and her devotion to God. She becomes the emotional beacon for Raskolnikov’s search for ultimate peace. Dean is a boisterous, yet pitiful drunk as Sonia’s father. However, his inquisitive Porfiry is deceptively charming. In the beginning, he appears as a fawning, doltish fan to Rashkolnikov’s writings. But this is a ruse, hiding the clever investigator underneath, disarming both the protagonist and the audience. Dean adds incredible subtext to this character, making the antagonist just as sympathetic as the man he is hunting. And with this spectacular mixture of smooth direction, flawless lighting and sound, and powerful acting, Crime and Punishment at A Noise Within is quite…extraordinary.

Raskolnikov (Michael A. Newcomer)accepts his fate as the ensemble (Robertson Dean and Holly Hawkins) look on

Cr ime and Punishment opened October 17, 2009 and runs through December 17, 2009

A Noise Within
234 South Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204

online: www.anoisewithin.org

Photos by: Craig Schwartz

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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