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Minimalist’s play maximizes talent

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Reader’s Digest was famous back in the ’40s and ’50s for its series of "condensed books" — edited versions of best-sellers for people who didn’t have the time or money to invest in the author’s full-length work. Plays based on books are by necessity condensed versions of the original story, and viewed in that context, Hawaii Repertory Theatre’s production of "Crime and Punishment," in which a cast of three portrays eight characters in a 90-minute, one-act play — distills Fyodor Dostoevsky’s far more complicated novel down to manageable size.

Playwright-editors Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus keep the psychological elements strong.

An elderly pawnbroker known for charging high rates of interest has been murdered along with her sister. A police detective investigating the case suspects an impoverished, mentally unstable college dropout who lives in a cramped rented room in the building where the murders took place. But it isn’t clear whether his suspicions were piqued by the basic issues of motive and opportunity or by a recently published article the young man wrote about the right of "extraordinary men" to break the law if they see their action as serving a higher purpose.

Spoiler alert!

"CRIME AND PUNISHMENT"

» Where: Kawananakoa Backstage Theatre, 49 Funchal St.

» When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday; 3:30 p.m. Sunday

» Cost: $30 ($25 age 62 and older, $20 students)

» Info: 545-7170 or www.hawaiireptheatre.org

The suspect, Raskolnikov, is conflicted on many levels. He feels humiliated at living in such reduced circumstances, but when his widowed mother sends him money she can’t afford to give him, he pays a neighbor’s funeral expenses rather than catching up on his rent or buying the clothes he needs to apply for a job.

And he is tormented by guilt. And by the detective’s seemingly innocuous questions. And by his complicated feelings for Sonia, a teenage neighbor who works as a prostitute to support her siblings, dying mother and alcoholic wastrel father. He also dreads disappointing his mother and finds his belief that he is an "extraordinary man" wavering.

For instance, would an "extraordinary man" feel any guilt or remorse about crushing an "insect" or two?

Todd Coolidge gives the show a solid foundation as Raskolnikov. Coolidge has previously done stellar work in the title role of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s production of "King John" in 2007, as Iago in HSF’s 2008 staging of "Othello," and as the opportunistic hustler in HRT’s provocative presentation of "Mauritius" last fall. He is convincing here playing a guilty man desperately trying not to look and sound guilty, and convincing as well in the scenes where Raskolnikov is trying to explain himself to Sonia.

Gerry Altwies shifts easily between two key roles as the patient, persistent detective and Sonia’s charming albeit shameless father. The imperturbable calm of characters who have come to terms with themselves is in stark contrast to Raskolnikov’s unquenchable, roiling energy.

Kelly Fitzgerald’s scenes as Sonia bring another theme to the forefront. The detective is tempting Raskolnikov with the relief of confession and the possibility of a lighter sentence, but Sonia is offering him unconditional love and the redemption of his soul (Fitzgerald also appears as Raskolnikov’s mother, the pawnbroker and the pawnbroker’s sister).

Director Brian Lee Sackett’s stylized set — a bed, a table and two chairs in front of a wall of doors — suffices to suggest Raskolnikov’s apartment, the detective’s office and Raskolnikov’s tangled thoughts. Sackett also designed the audio effects; coupled with David A. Griffith’s lighting plots, they enhance the sense of place and the conflicts raging in Raskolnikov’s mind.

 

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