Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dostoevsky on stage

WELL, YES, I seem to have left a few things hanging. I'll try to be concise, and catch them up in turn, starting tonight with comments on
  • A Noise Within
  • We saw three plays down in Glendale last month, rather an odd set but one nicely showing off the abilities of this repertory company we've followed now for years. We saw an effective if somewhat conventional Richard II, which distressed me considerably for the first few minutes as I was quite irrationally convinced, in the previous few days, looking forward to it, that it was Richard III that was scheduled: a play I very much like. Alas, no: the misshapen villain looked me in the eye and began lecturing about the winter of our discontent and I was in for it.

    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.