Crime and Punishment and Lazarus

Last night we went and saw Crime and Punishment at the Jungle Theater. I’ve never read the novel. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read any of those Russian epic tomes, so I didn’t know any more about what the story was to be than what I had read in a pre-press articles or reviews.

Side note: Reviews are only important to a point, as it really boils down to one person’s opinion. I wouldn’t even consider this posting a review, but nonetheless, thought I’d mention this little caveat.

The story is rather…depressing and deep. The crime is an unsolved (for the moment murder) and the punishment is not a jail term but rather the punishment of living with the guilt, and what it does to the man. It’s a kind of descent into madness. The script itself has nicely dissolved what I’m sure is a long novel into a clean, neat 90 minute piece, made for three actors. (I can’t imagine what it took for the writers to do this.) Throughout the play the story of Lazarus keeps coming up, and the man is asked if he believes the story or believes in God. He claims he does, although always in a questioning manner. There’s a strong, and not surprising, existentialist element. This is something I really liked because it worked, because it made sense, and because in the end it was the thread that lead us over the dramatic arch of the play.

The three actors are no schmoes either. The lead actor, the crime/punishment man, never leaves the stage for the entire show. (Having been an actor in such a show I can say that alone is a feat.) And he works his heart out as we see him slip deeper and deeper in to his guilt. The other two actors each play multiple roles, slipping in and out of the space and in and out of their characters with brilliant ease.

The playing space, which never changes but by reference to being different locales, primarily represents the man’s home. The design (done by the director) is the deconstruction of a small wooden shack, with a big opening upstage (which characters float in from), and a door one side, with a window on the other. There was nothing obvious about it, but it gave me the feeling of looking at a skull – as if it were the mind of the main character.

Overall it was a good evening. The show was gorgeous, the acting (most of it) was top-notch, the direction was clean and inventive. The only problem I had was stuck somewhere in between all of that. It wasn’t the writing (although it may have been) and it wasn’t the directing (although that certainly had a hand in it) and it wasn’t just the acting (although there’s certainly some room to blame there.) The problem was that for an hour and a half we watched a depressed man get more depressed…

no…no, that’s not it. The problem wasn’t that we watched a depressed man get more depressed, but rather that after a certain point, I didn’t care about him. I wasn’t empathetic towards that man. Juxtaposed with this, I found myself rather empathetic towards almost everyone else – the victim who was mean and nasty, the other victim who was sweet and simple, the mother of the man, the whore he loved, the whore’s father, the investigator…..I cared about everyone else, but the man I was supposed to. Or, so it seems. While it may be inherent in the writing, it’s something the director should’ve seen, but for me I think it really does boil down to the actor. He’s a good actor, but this may have been beyond his reach.

In the end the production’s shortcomings were minor, but like Lazarus, it may be a few more days before its fate, for me, is decided.


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