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Larry Littany Litt



Crime and Punishment
By Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus
Directed by Karen Case Cook
Presented by Phoenix Theater Ensemble
At A.R.T. New York Theaters
Reviewed Jan. 28, 2024 by Larry Littany Litt

Elise Stone, Josh Tyson.

I haven’t read "Crime and Punishment" since I was a senior in high school. What a book full of laughs it was. Imagine the most depressing thoughts a college freshman could have rolled into a murder mystery and a religious tract all in one book.

In the world literature canon "Crime and Punishment" is up there with Albert Camus’ "The Stranger" and Victor Hugo’s "Les Miserables."

But more than anything else this play is about not being a loser. Raskolinkov the failed college student now desperately poor man of grand ideas has come to the conclusion that he is Napoleonic. A man above the middle class morality that he he believes himself above.

It’s the vain narcissistic egoism of Raskolnikov that reminds me of Donald Trump. As played by Josh Tyson the student is responsible for declaring that he believes in a two class system. The privileged and the sheep. He of course is among the privileged because he can conceive of them. Although as yet unused, he has power and might. Here’s where the shadow of Trump appears. We all remember that Trump said he could kill someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single fan or follower.

John Lenartz as inspector Porfiry Petrovich.

Tyson’s Raskolnikov indeed shows similar thoughts and boasts as he is questioned by Porfiry Petrovich, an investigator from the police. John Lenartz breaths a very gentle life into the investigation, in fact you wouldn’t suspect it was one. But alas this cat and mouse game uses social philosophy as bait. More Trumpism appears when the question of power is used to ask who is a subject for the law and who is above it.

Elise Stone, a brilliant character actress was asked by director Karen Case Cook to play a number of women’s roles with age variations of at least fifty years. She had to convince us she was an old, greedy hag, her innocent middle aged sister, Raskolnikov’s mother and finally a young woman who becomes a prostitute to support her family and for spiritual reasons is in love with Raskolnikov. Through subtle costume changes and body postures Stone made the leaps into these stage characters that rounded out the match between the male characters.

The almost bare stage gave John Lenartz opportunities to be an investigator and the drunk, suicidal father of the young prostitute. He actually made me feel he was drunk in that way only Russians can be. He was loud, violent and sad, oh so sad at the same time. A giant contrast to Porfiry the investigator.

It’s too bad this adaptation has done its run here in New York City. It’s worth a bring back for the ever experimental and successful Phoenix Theater.


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