A tormented mind — Crime and Punishment on stage

A tormented mind — Crime and Punishment on stage

Robertson Dean, Michael A. Newcomer and Holly Hawkins - photo by Craig Schwartz

Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky”™s Crime and Punishment is a legendary work of literature. Now playing at the Glendale theater of A Noise Within is a new adaptation for the stage, created by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus.

This, his second novel, was based on the accounts of the murderous exploits of Pierre Fran̤ois Lacenaire. Dostoevsky read about the sensational case and was inspired to write his nihilistic 600-word tome. The central crime examined in his novel was a duplication of that of LacenaireӪs, almost to the last detail.

Lacenaire became infamous for exploiting his crime and incarceration to the fullest extent possible. Philosopher Michel Foucault believed Lacenaire”™s notoriety among Parisians signified the birth of a new kind of lionized outlaw (as opposed to the folk hero of yore) – meaning, the new, bourgeois romantic criminal.

Dostoyevsky”™s work is renowned for its examination of the morass of morality that surrounds criminal misdeeds and is thought to have greatly influenced the detective and true crime genres of literature and, later, screen.

Warning – PLOT SPOILERS follow:

The classic story examines the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an impoverished St. Petersburg ex-student who formulates and executes a plan to kill a loathed, unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money, thereby solving his financial problems and at the same time, he argues, ridding the world of an evil, worthless parasite. Raskolnikov also strives to be an extraordinary being, similar to Napoleon, positing the belief that murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose.

This excellent, pared-down stage adaptation Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus runs at a breakneck pace for 90 minutes with no interval and is faithful to the tone and mood of the original novel. Describing the original work as a “…memory play set in the psychological landscape of Raskolnikov”™s mind…” this stage version recounts the tale of Dostoyevsky”™s novel through dream sequence, imagination and the effective use of a non-linear time line. Set mainly during a hot and stench-ridden summer of Dostoyevsky”™s 19th century St. Petersburg, the story is less a murder mystery than a exploration of the psychological motivation behind the crime, as we probe the guilt-ridden mind of his protagonist, unemployed student Raskolnikov (played by Michael A. Newcomer).

The entire drama is staged within an austere, two-tiered wooden set, brilliantly designed by Michael C. Smith. Essentially an uncluttered room dominated by a tattered chaise lounge and a writing desk, upstage are several rickety staircases that head off in three separate directions, leading to no fewer than five doors. Those landings serve as locations for scenes outside the confines of either Raskolnikov”™s tiny, claustrophobic lodgings or the Detective”™s more comfortable offices.

The self-tortured, debt-plagued Raskolnikov is brought in for questioning by a jolly Detective Porfiry (Robertson Dean) over the grisly axe murder of a pawn broker and her daughter. The Inspector is trying to piece together the events that led up to the dual murders. It is during the interrogation sessions – at first, closer to pleasant exchanges than pressured inquisition – that the gruff, brusque thinker (and prime suspect) gradually begins to reveal his radical theory about crime and morality. The persistent Inspector is also a passionate thinker and Dean plays him well, injecting a giddy enthusiasm in his voice as it frequently rises to an excitable, high comic pitch.

In contrast to the battle of the minds between the Detective and his suspect, Raskolnikov finds solace and humanity in his friendship with an equally impoverished local woman, Sonya (played well by Holly Hawkins) who has been forced into prostitution by her drunkard father.

Michael A. Newcomer and Holly Hawkins - photo by Craig Schwartz

Unfortunately, the way this story unfolds leaves little room for a satisfactory emotional journey for its tormented protagonist. As Raskolnikov, Newcomer telegraphs his angst from the first moment and leaves little space to intensify it. He begins as a highly-strung character with the mind of a poet and – as is eventually revealed – the heart of a cynic, whose anguish only slightly escalates as the mesh of the law closes in and tightens around him. There is even an echo of one of Edgar Allen Poe”™s most famous stories (The Tell-Tale Heart,) which is further solidified by the use of a stunning visual effect during the play”™s dramatic grand guignol climax.

Anyone wanting a quick insight into one of the greatest works of Russian literature will do well to experience this condensed stage adaptation.

Production Notes-
The tense chamber piece is directed by Craig Belknap and performed at a taut and efficient speed by the trio of actors – Robertson Dean (Inspector and Others), Holly Hawkins (Sonya and Others) and Michael A. Newcomer (Raskolnikov). Dostoyevsky”™s opus, and Campbell and Columbus”™ play, explores the delicate fragility of the mind. In a desperate quest to be redeemed for the perpetration of an unspeakable crime, brilliant Raskolnikov embodies humankind”™s eternal struggle between enlightened genius and the temptation of evil. Belknap”™s use of period music and eerie cinematic-type effects in the production enhance the tension and drama.

All production photos taken by Craig Schwartz.

A Noise Within
234 South Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204

Crime and Punishment plays in repertory with Richard III on the following dates:

Sunday, October 18, 2 pm
Sunday, October 25, 2 pm
Sunday, October 25, 7 pm
Wednesday, October 28, 8 pm
Friday, November 20, 8 pm
Saturday, November 21, 2 pm
Saturday, November 21, 8 pm
Saturday, December 5, 2 pm
Saturday, December 5, 8 pm
Sunday, December 13, 2 pm
Sunday, December 13, 7 pm
Wednesday, December 16, 8 pm
Thursday, December 17, 8 pm

$44 (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees);
$40 (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, Saturday matinees);

Group rates and special rates for school groups available

To purchase tickets or for a full season brochure, call 818-240-0910 x1 or
visit their website.


“White Russians and Discussions”
Post-Performance Reception for
Saturday, December 5, 2009, 8 P.M.
(Featuring Cast Members)

Following the performance on Saturday, December 5, 2009, 8 P.M., the “White Russians and
reception features cast members discussing the play and their
multiple roles in the production.

review by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.



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