When you take a somewhat lengthy classic work of Russian literature rendered into English by acclaimed translator Constance Garnet, then adapt it for a stage production that takes about an hour to perform, you might question the depth and verity of the overall dramatic experience.
Yet that's exactly what Kelly Colleen McMahon, managing director of Meadville's Academy Theatre, and artist-in-residence Patrick Curley have done with Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and with a significant measure of success, I might add.
In the past, film adaptations of the novel have successfully tailored the work to around 90 minutes, proving that brevity is not necessarily an indication of a lack of merit.
Fortuitously, McMahon and Curley have something extra going for them -- experience. The pair previously staged the same work in October 2006 at a theater in Galway, Ireland.
For the Academy production, McMahon directs while Curley plays the tortured Raskolnikov, a young student adversely influenced by radical moral and philosophical ideas floating around Russia in the middle of the 19th century.
In addition to polished acting by Curley and Laura Lee Brautigam, who portrays the pivotal character of the compassionate Sonya, the production benefits from some innovative staging, which takes place in a small room on the second floor of the theater building overlooking the Meadville streetscape.
Limited to 50 seats, the room suggests the constrained confines of Raskolnikov's modestly furnished and disheveled living quarters in St. Petersburg.
The play opens with Raskolnikov asleep in bed, and the staging manages to evoke a dreamlike quality through to the end. This attribute is buttressed by the clever use of filmed actors projected on a screen at the front of the stage. The images include the police inspector and others who interact with Curley as Raskolnikov, carrying on a perfectly timed dialogue between the cinematic and the flesh and blood actors.
The mood of the different scenes gets further emotional color from tidbits of recorded music from a creatively engineered soundtrack that manages to be expressive without being intrusive.
This production of Crime and Punishment succeeds artistically and dramatically, but because it's been more years than I'd like to admit since I read Dostoevsky's darkly atmospheric book, I hesitate to comment on how well the adaptation stays true to the ideas developed by the original author.
Taken simply on its theatrical merits, however, the play is definitely worth a look.