Susan Bennett and Scott Parkinson
in Crime and Punishment
(© Carol Rosegg)
Susan Bennett and Scott Parkinson
in Crime and Punishment
(© Carol Rosegg)
Mention Chicago and the word "theater" in the same sentence and images of fiery, physical confrontations may come to mind. However, you won't experience the overtly physical in Crime and Punishment, now at 59E59 Theaters as part of The Go-Chicago! Festival. And as for fiery, director Michael Halberstam keeps the proceedings in his production of Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus' stage adaptation of Dostoevsky's classic novel at a slow boil. That doesn't mean there isn't plenty of intensity here -- it's just all psychological, which is ideal for this story of Raskolnikov (Scott Parkinson), a man wrestling with his conscience after he's murdered an avaricious old woman, a pawnbroker to whom he's in debt.

Dostoevsky's novel takes the reader into the pressure cooker of Raskolnikov's mind both before and after the murder. In this 90-minute, one-act version of Crime, we're thrown into the depths of his mental frenzy only following the murder, primarily during Raskolnikov's encounters with police investigator Porfiry Petrovich (John Judd), who is attempting to solve the crime. Raskolnikov first goes to this man to retrieve two of the items which had been left with the old woman. During their time together, an unlikely camaraderie develops -- or perhaps its Petrovich's ability to detect a guilty conscience -- and thus, a careful cat-and-mouse game begins.

Alongside the scenes between these two characters, we witness flashbacks -- in almost jagged fragments -- to moments surrounding the murder and to other events that take place following it, namely Raskolnikov's attempts to find salvation in a romantic friendship with the prostitute Sonia (Susan Bennett), who is the daughter of a recently deceased friend of Raskolnikov's. While Raskolnikov attempts to hide his guilt from Petrovich, with Sonia, he's desperate to confess all, seeing her as a kind of Mary Magdalene figure because of her status as a "fallen" woman.

As Crime juts back and forth through time, we witness scenes between Raskolnikov and several characters such as Sonia's father and the pawnbroker, whom Judd and Bennett also play. The double and triple casting of these performers only enhances the frenzied, dreamlike quality of the production. They slide into and rotate in and out of the action via a series of doors on Eugene Lee's set of crudely painted white plywood, on which hangs a huge rustic crucifix that underscores Dostoevsky's religious imagery.

Lighting designer Keith Parham occasionally moderates the harshness of this environment with dim, atmospheric lighting. At other times, though, he intensifies its cruelty with blasts of bright white light. Often, the shifts in light appear to be accomplished by one of the performers throwing the switch on a fuse box at one side of the stage. When this occurs, we hear a thunderous crash of metal (courtesy of sound designer Josh Schmidt). It's almost as if we're hearing the heavy gears of Raskolnikov's guilty mind shifting.

This tormented man's paranoid arrogance and frantic, sometimes dazed, mania are brought to life with both panache and subtlety by Parkinson. Judd never overplays the inspector's confidence or his good-nature, which often puts us in the same position as Raskolnikov. Is Petrovich onto the crime or not? Similarly nuanced is Bennett's work as Sonia, whom the actress imbues with both cold pragmatism and gentle warmth.

In the end, we leave Crime and Punishment with the same sort of conflicted consolation that Sonia sometimes gives to Raskolnikov, having experienced the kind of theater that terrifically and satisfyingly assaults head, heart, and senses.