Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is one of the pillars of literature, but this tale of murder and redemption is much more than a musty, dusty old tome.
“Books written 100 or 150 or even 400 years ago, like Shakespeare, can seem so up to date, so immediate to what we experienced the day before yesterday,” said Aaron Posner, who is directing the Philadelphia premiere of a stage version of the classic at the Arden Theatre Company (playing through December 10).
“(‘Crime and Punishment’) is one of the great works of literature because it goes to the core of important questions about the very nature of our humanity,” continued Posner, who is also resident director and co-founder of the Arden. “It is sad and hard how relevant this book is. Exploring the desperate acts of people with very little hope, and the complexities of faith and violence – these are sadly relevant topics.”
First published in 12 monthly installments in 1866 and later released as a novel, Crime and Punishment explores the dark recesses of the human soul with one of the greatest crime stories ever told. This 80-minute, three-actor adaptation (by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus) cuts right to the heart of matters, said Posner.
“It is a stark, smart, powerful take on the book,” asserted the director. “It is more a distillation than a more straightforward adaptation in that it does not try to be the book or to get everything from the book onstage. It takes a few characters – a few of the most important, troubling and fascinating questions and relationships – and explores those in depth.”
The cast features Cody Nickell as the central character, Raskolnikov, with Christopher Donahue as Porfiry and Julianna Zinkel as Sonia. The latter two actors also play a variety of smaller roles. Nickell, from Los Angeles, and Donahue, a resident of Princeton, NJ, are making their Arden debuts.
“This has been an amazing ensemble,” said Posner, recently named artistic director at the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, NJ. “As you might imagine, this is quite an intense piece to work on, and they have been great at every step of the way. It takes courage, perseverance, talent and skill to do what this play requires. Fortunately, all three have all these qualities.”
And, fortunately, the audience won’t need those qualities to make it through this Crime and Punishment.
“You could do a brilliant eight-hour production,” said Posner, “but that would be a whole different beast. Folks should not show up expecting to see the book on stage – that is never the attempt here (at the Arden). It is its own thing. It lives on its own terms.”
Crime and Punishment, call for times, $27 – $45, Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St., Philadelphia, 215.922.1122; www.ardentheatre.org