Four evenings later it was a very different matter: Michael Frayn's Noises Off is a very funny play, fast and funny, about a theater company falling apart during the performance of a fast and not terribly funny farce called Nothing On, whose first act is performed in each of the play's three acts: first as seen by an audience, but in rehearsal; next seen from backstage, where the actors have begun succumbing to jealousy, anxiety and drunkenness; finally on stage again, a few weeks later, when the company is in a state of total collapse. Of course this is a marvelous vehicle for a true repertory company whose actors are used to working together, developing a play through a number of performances over a period of weeks: the performance was superb.
I had looked forward to the theatrical adaptation of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment with considerable curiosity. I hadn't read the book in over fifty years, so got down my old Penguin paperback and devoured it in a week. What a book! Absolutely riveting in its suspense; teeming with detail; intellectually and morally provocative. Since my first reading I'd been to Petersburg — Leningrad it was, then — and knew those scents and streets first-hand. ¶ The adaptation, by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, was fascinating, narrowing the plot almost exclusively to the cat-and-mouse between Raskolnikov and the police inspector (Michael A. Newcomer and Robertson Dean, respectively), with just enough allusion to other plot elements to involve Holly Hawkins as Alyona, the old-lady pawnbroker; Dunya, Raskolinikov's sister; and Sonia, the girl who ultimately ... but I won't put any spoilers here. ¶ Newcomer was magnificent, memorably so, onstage virtually throughout the 90 minutes unreleaved by intermission. He'd clearly studied the novel carefully and thought about its implications quite extensively; you could believe his mind capable of quite absorbing both Raskolnikov's careful philosophical deliberations and his intellectual methodology. Dean and Hawkins were quite up to his level; Craig Belknap's direction was thoughtful and balanced; and Michael Smith's design is both authentic in its realism and subtle in its psychological effect. As is everything about this play and the novel it draws on: and, alas, it's all too topical still.