By Holli Harms

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s stage adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, is nothing short of stupendous. When milk is reduced to cream, they have taken Dostoyevsky’s work about a horrible murder, redemption, and the twisted words we tell ourselves to justify our monstrous actions, and boiled it down to ninety minutes compressing it to a rich dense cream. A completely fulfilling evening of theater.

Josh Tyson as Raskolinkov. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Campbell and Columbus have crafted the many characters in Dostoevsky’s rich and masterful story down to three powerful actors, Elise Stone, John Lenartz, and Josh Tyson. The set is made up of three steel stools and nothing more. Nothing more is needed, because the words of Dostoevsky are played out so beautifully by this ensemble, and there is the fine-tuned minimalist creative staging by director Karen Case Cook, and Tony Mulanix’s genius lighting, which never distracts or detracts but enhances the stage and the emotional life of the characters. All of this beauty is staged on the wonderful Gural black box at A.R.T.

This production is a symphonic poem to this mesmerizing and horrifying tale of what happens to the human mind when it lives in a constant state of hunger; hunger for food, hunger for companionship, hunger for a home to live and love in and not simply exist in. Desperation and everyday frustrations of finding enough to live on can take a toll on both body and soul. It is also a story of religion and government dolling out hope to those who are hopeless. A Tale of the Hopeless.

The play begins during the investigation by the magistrate, Porfiry Petrovich (John Lenartz), into the brutal murder of the old pawnshop woman and her simple, sweet sister (Elise Stone). Petrovich has asked Rodka Raskolnikov (Josh Tyson) to help him piece together the circumstances of the day that led to the murders. Rodka has been living in a single-room flat in St. Petersburg that is in the same building as the sisters so he might have seen something. Rodka was once a student at University studying to be a lawyer but a lack of funds forced him to drop out. Now he pawns family heirlooms for money. While in school Rodka wrote an essay on crime that was published. Petrovich read it and became fascinated by it. In his writing, Rodka talked about how the world is divided into ordinary people and extraordinary people.

John Lenartz as inspector Porfiry Petrovich. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The extraordinary, Rodka postures, should be above the law. They are above it because they are working to make the world greater and better. If a great man must kill ten to save millions then he has that right and should suffer no punishment. Leaders, who are extraordinary people, have the right to steal and start wars. Bloodshed makes them stronger as leaders and thus they will help every one of those they rule over. The general poor are ordinary and are nothing but insects to humanity. They are as easily dispensed of as stepping on a cockroach or catching a fly in midair with your hand and smashing it. Those who want to help and change the lives of others and kill those in the way of that suffer no consequences.

Elise Stone. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

From Rodka’s hypothesis, the pawnshop woman had money she was squandering. Money that would help many of the poor. Did Robin Hood not take from the rich to give to the poor?

How we qualify our acts of injustice to one another is an interior conflict for only some, the ordinary, but for others who are extraordinary, there should be no conflict as they are always in the right. Dostoevsky’s words continue to ring true to this day. Those in power believe themselves above the law, mankind’s laws, and are thus of a higher power.

This is one of those performances that you are not able to step away from any time soon nor do you want to. You want to mull over the story, the ideas, the actors, and their wonderful performances. You want to savor this moment, like a fine wine or a good heartfelt human exchange.

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s stage adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus directed by Karen Case Cook.

With: Josh Tyson, Elise Stone, John Lenartz

Creative Team: Directed by Karen Case Cook, adaptation by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, Lighting Design by Tony Mulanix, Costume Design by Debbi Hobson, Sound Design by Ellen Mandel, Props Design by Buffy Cardona, Board Operator Rodney Perez

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

A.R.T./New York Theatres: 502 W 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019 // (212) 594-5414

ABOUT PHOENIX LIVE ARTS FESTIVAL
The Phoenix Festival is an annual celebration of arts and culture with live performances in Rockland County, NY, led by the award-winning Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. It was begun in 2022, with the aspiration to create an arts festival to rival the national arts festivals, celebrating classical theater, classical music, and the community of Nyack. (https://liveartsinnyack.com)
ABOUT PHOENIX THEATRE ENSEMBLE
Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, led by Craig Smith and Elise Stone, is a prestigious, award-winning not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization committed to classics and new adaptations of language-rich texts. (https://www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org)