From the novel, I remember the seething streets of St. Petersburg, the smell of beer and the deranged student's always empty belly. These details, the odd joys of Dostoevsky's grim novel, won't translate on stage, and so I anticipated that a 90-minute Crime and Punishment would be at best a lively cat-and-mouse game between detective and killer. Under John Green's direction, however, the Indiana Repertory Theatre reaches for and grasps much more.
Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus's brisk three-player adaptation wipes away subplots and minor characters, and like a dream analysis in which everyone in the dream is really you, every character reflects some part of the murderer Raskolnikov. As Inspector Porfiry pursues him with good cheer, he gives voice to Raskolnikov's theory about a Napoleonic right to topple order in pursuit of individual greatness. The prostitute Sonia, who accepts her own suffering with grace, understands Raskolnikov's wretchedness.
Andrew Ahrens, who recently played IRT's Macbeth, here is better able to focus on the murderer's inner struggles, rather than just his life's events. Raskolnikov's self-awareness and unease grows discernibly but never hysterically, as he pivots from Porfiry to Sonia, wary of one's trap, seeking salvation from the other. Peter DeFaria as Porfiry and Jenny McKnight as Sonia step in and out of character, sometimes awkwardly, to play four other friends and foes to Raskolnikov. Still, their portrayals of Porfiry and Sonia grow quietly rich.
A spare set and subtle tones in lighting, sound and costuming keep Raskolnikov's world small and close, except for bursts of light and music that define key moments like murder and confession. When confession comes and Raskolnikov is drenched in light, we hear not just a killer's surrender, but also the tremendous relief of a man who finally knows himself. Moments like these, often witnessed in Green's productions at Butler University, feel like theatrical miracles - at least for those of us who think life requires some form of capitulation every day.
Crime and Punishment continues through March 8 at the IRT, 140 W. Washington St. Call 317-635-5252 or go to www.irtlive.com for dates, times and tickets ($34-$49).