Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

Written by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus
Directed by Sharon Ott
Limited Season · Thrust Stage
February 27–March 29, 2009

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Sharon Ott returns to the stage where she earned her national reputation with a gripping production of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment. As a police inspector interrogates a man about murder, we journey through the mind of a criminal. What did he do? Why did he do it? And what would you be capable of in certain circumstances? Before Law & Order, there was Crime and Punishment. Performed in 90 minutes with only three actors, this chamber piece compresses all the tension and pathos of the novel into a powerful evening of theatre. Dive into the greatest crime story ever written, a tale of murder, motive and redemption that plumbs the depths of the human soul.

Creative team

Fyodor Dostoevsky · Writer
Marilyn Campbell · Adaptor
Curt Columbus · Adaptor
Sharon Ott · Director
Christopher Barreca · Scenic Design
Lydia Tanji · Costume Design
Stephen Strawbridge · Lighting Design
Cliff Caruthers · Sound Design
Heath Belden · Stage Manager
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Elissa Meyers Casing · Casting
Daniel Troyano · Research Assistant
Zara Kamraz · Russian pronounciation
Dave Maier · Fight Director


J.R. Horne · Porfiry / Marmelodov / A Tradesman
Delia MacDougall · Sonia / Alyona / Mother / Lizaveta
Tyler Pierce · Raskolnikov

“This Crime is beautifully staged and features some sharply etched performance moments…It’s the much-anticipated return of director Sharon Ott to the scene of some of her greatest triumphs.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Crime and Punishment bristles with intensity…This adaptation, using only three actors playing several roles, is quite fascinating in its own right. The piece has an almost uncomfortable intimacy, which allows the characters to get too close, both to the audience and to each other. It’s a nice theatrical device…The acting is outstanding…It is an elegant production, tightly written.”—Bay Area News Group

“Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus have sculpted the 600-page Russian opus into a 90-minute study in menace. Elegantly directed by Sharon Ott, who returns to Berkeley Rep, the company she helped make famous, it’s a muscular psychological drama that’s both intellectually rigorous and visually arresting.”—San Jose Mercury News

“The cast of three includes J.R. Horne and Delia MacDougall playing multiple roles, and Tyler Pierce as Raskolonikov in one of the finest dramatic performances that I have ever seen. It’s all performed in 90 minutes and provides an exciting evening of great theatre…It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat!”—KGO-AM

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

When I first read Crime and Punishment I remember feeling overwhelmed. I was in high school at the time, and the sheer length of the novel was enough to elicit horrified groans from the entire class. How could we possibly endure the lurid prose of some Russian writer who lived in the middle of the 19th century? From the summary on the back of the book, I judged that the plot was annoyingly simple, and the author, whose grim features and bedraggled beard stared out at me from an old photo, resembled a corpse more than a living human being. I resigned myself to idea that reading the book was going to be torture.

In fact, it was torture; but the kind of ecstatic torture one experiences when encountering pure genius. It was at once engrossing and mysterious, logical and incomprehensible. The simple plot turned out to be a vehicle to describe the inner workings of the diseased mind of a murderer, the investigation of the crime an intricate and surprising portrait of a brilliant detective. But the plot was only a part of the story. Dostoevsky’s vision of the world was filled with a kind of suffering that seemed both unbearable and transcendent.

He was after something much larger than a naturalistic presentation of the world. His prose was torrid, fantastic and hyperreal. It was as if he was possessed, like his central character Raskolnikov, by a fevered dream that threatened to consume him at any moment. At the heart of Crime and Punishment is the author’s own spiritual quest to understand the world, to find a path that can lead to meaning, to empathy and, finally, to redemption.

The adaptation you will be seeing tonight by Curt Columbus and Marilyn Campbell is an intense distillation of the novel. It tightly compresses the action into a series of investigatory encounters while trying to capture Dostoevsky’s pursuit of larger metaphysical questions. Rather than trying to imitate the expansionist prose of the book, the play carefully selects its dramatic events to reveal the luminous mind of the author. The result, brought to life by three actors, is swift, vivid and astonishingly effective.

This production marks the directorial return of none other than Sharon Ott. As many of you know, Sharon served as the artistic director of Berkeley Rep for 13 terrific years, during which time she created a national reputation for the theatre. From personal experience I can tell you that she taught us all to aim higher, to make bold choices and to take smart chances. With Crime and Punishment, we continue the tradition she so bravely established.

Tony Taccone

A conversation with Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus

Literary and dramaturgy intern Alex Rosenthal chats with adaptors Marilyn and Curt about distilling one very long novel into a sparse yet rich theatrical experience.

Alex: How did your collaboration come about?

Marilyn: The piece really started with Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, where I’m a co-founder. We do a lot of adaptations of classical literature, and our artistic director, Michael Halberstam, was very interested in Crime and Punishment and originally asked if I could adapt the novel. He gave me parameters, which were that he really wanted to center it around the murder aspect of the story, and center it around Raskolnikov and Porfiry. So I started researching the novel, and soon realized that you couldn’t tell the story without Sonia—it really needed that female voice of redemption in there—so I insisted that she be added in as a character and set out again to adapt the novel. When I finished it about a year later, we had seven characters and two hours, 45 minutes worth of material. And then we toyed around with it for another year. We did a reading, but we really wanted to take this leap and let the narration go, and had come up against a wall as to how to do that. That’s when Michael decided that Curt, who speaks Russian, would be a perfect match for us.

Curt: I said, “Well, really I’m not interested in doing a large-scale production; I’m only interested in working on a three-character version.” Because for me, Crime and Punishment is one of the greatest novels ever written. It survives being taken out of its native language and being turned into other languages, and it’s still one of the greatest novels ever written across the world. An adaptation in the theatre has to go whizzing past your head like a bunch of bullets. If you just want the experience of the novel, read the novel.

How did you know at that point that you wanted to write a three-character adaptation?

Curt: Because the only question that I’m interested in within Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is whether God exists in man. There’s an old Russian icon painting representing the idea of the trinity as an iconic number in Christian theology—it’s this beautiful trinity of father, son and holy ghost. The idea was always rattling around in my brain that these are the Crime and Punishment characters. In fact, you can play out about seven different trinities in Crime and Punishment, it’s all about triples. And so that was always in my head when thinking of the novel. And Marilyn immediately took to the idea.

Marilyn: When the script came back it was about 45 minutes long, but Curt had captured the essence of what we wanted to do, and when I read that first line—“Do you believe in Lazarus rising from the dead?”—I knew we had something brilliant.

Curt: Marilyn had done the original heavy lifting of the adaptation. I went back and retranslated certain passages because I didn’t feel the translation she was working from was quite vivid enough, and then we continued to refine in response to what the actors said to us. We got into a room with the three actors who ultimately did the first production, and it really changed the shape of the play.

What do you find thrilling about the process of adaptation?

Marilyn: Shining a light on material that has sort of been lost or passed over—relevant material that speaks to us today that still echoes from all those years ago. People are still saying the same things; they’re still asking us the same questions. It’s also exciting to me to see people hear these words for the fi rst time. It’s great to let people just sit and listen and watch them think, “I never would have come up with that” or “I never would have been able to read it that way or understand it that way.”

Curt: I always find creating theatre thrilling because you get in a room with other people and together you make something ineffable happen—which is not the easiest thing in the world to do. We’ve all seen flat-footed people doing theatre, and the experience of that versus the experience of wonder you can have when “Oh my gosh, look at all these people in a room together, and look at what they’re making me feel and what they’re making me do” is kind of extraordinary. I think the adaptation thrill is the same as the theatre thrill, which is when you’re taking something that’s a text and making it alive. I love text and I love reading, but I also love the live experience.

In what ways does this adaptation diverge from the novel?

Curt: Well, here’s the simplistic answer: the novel is novelistic, and hopefully the play is dramatic. That’s sort of shorthand, but the novel is 697 pages, and part of its joy is its texture and its heft—that kind of dense, almost tapestry-like quality of the little details, such as that Porfiry is wearing his little slippers and this little robe. That, and the sweep, and the characters, and St. Petersburg, which is truly a character in the novel. The play is definitely more concerned with the themes and with the dramatic interactions. Our adaptation definitely can and should be performed in a very spare way.

Marilyn: One of the things that made our adaptation special was that Curt took it out of linear time. My original adaptation was written like the novel—it started with the murder. So Curt put it in Raskolnikov’s head, and that gave us this complete freedom to tell the story any way that we wanted.

How does the story get us to empathize with a murderer?

Marilyn: At heart Raskolnikov’s a good guy—he loves his mother, he loves his sister, he loves his family, they care for him, and that love enables him to care for Sonia, and her father and mother. In this country we tend to hide behind this mask of righteousness, and say if you made a mistake you’re just nothing. But people do commit wrong acts and are still good people at heart. People are more complex than just black and white or good and bad.

Is there anything significant in the character names that we might miss as non-Russian speakers?

Curt: Well, the name Raskolnikov comes from Raskol in Russian, meaning schism or break, so he is the man of the break or the schism—the split, if you will. The Raskolniks were the people who wanted to split from the central body of the Orthodox Christian church. Sonia is from Sofia, which means wisdom in Greek.

Is all of the dialogue in the play lifted from the text, or is there original dialogue?

Curt: There’s a lot of original dialogue. There’s also a lot that’s lifted straight out—for example the horse dream speech, which is in the novel, but the way it is in the play is very much from our play, and only from our play.

When you write original dialogue do you make attempts to tie it to the original text or language in any way?

Curt: I try to listen to the rhythms of it. For example, when I’m translating Chekhov, I try to translate it so that the music of the original is present in the music of the translation. Which is why when people talk about literal translation there is no such thing. I get that all the time from people who say “when you do your Chekhov plays do you work from an original translation?” What does that mean, a literal translation? Nothing literally means anything else, you know, all words can be used with implication so they don’t literally mean the thing that you think that they mean.

So do you see translation and adaptation as two elements on the same spectrum?

Curt: Yes, definitely. Because it is always the translator’s job to translate the setting for her or his audience. Sometimes with translation the main thing that you have to provide is context. Well that immediately is adaptation, because the context is assumed or implied for the audience in the original language. A translation is always fluid, and people think that they’re looking for a translation that’s accurate, but what they’re looking for is a translation that sings. You’re not going to want to watch a completely “faithful” translation, and you’re certainly not going to want to listen to it. So there’s always adaptation of some kind.

Curt, you mentioned your work translating Chekhov—what keeps you coming back to 19th century Russian literature?

Curt: (Laughs.) Neurosis? Is it just a kind of fatal laziness? I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea. You’re not the first person to ask me that, and I wish I had a better answer, except that I do know: I feel like all of the questions that were being asked at the end of the 19th century are questions that are just as vivid for us right now, and perhaps it’s that kind of centennial moment, but the literature really speaks to me.

What would you say is timeless about Crime and Punishment?

Marilyn: I think it relates totally to modern audiences. Asking for forgiveness is a very hard thing to do, and I think it definitely echoes with everybody, this idea of redemption and can we be forgiven for the things that we’ve done. It’s a very Christian idea.

Curt: Since the dawn of time we’ve all wondered about whether God exists within us. And Dostoevsky’s basically just posing the question that whatever you call god—man’s capacity to be good—whatever it is, do we have that in us? And when it gets perverted is it forever perverted? Can you rise again? Anyone who’s struggled with alcohol or drugs, or any addiction knows what this is; anyone who has committed a crime and said, “I will reform,” has struggled with this idea. That’s why it’s universal.

Do you think that Dostoevsky was simply interested in raising the question of whether God exists in man, or was he positing an answer?

Curt: Well, he was mad, you know, profoundly mad. I don’t know, I think he thought he found an answer, because the end of the book there definitely is a period at the end of a sentence—Raskolnikov finds Christ, and he becomes the man with God in him. I think I’m more interested in the question, because the play ends with a question mark.

Parsing a Russian name

Russians typically have three names: a given first name, a patronymic and a family name.

The given first name is a name given to a child by his or her parents. Sonia and Porfiry are given first names.

A patronymic is a name derived from a father’s name. The patronymic is formed by taking a father’s given first name and adding the suffix –ovich for a male child and –ovna for a female child. So Raskolnikov’s father’s first name, Roman, with the suffix –ovich added, gives Raskolnikov the patronymic Romanovich.

The family name is passed identically from father to child, with the addition of an “a” ending for female family members. Sonia’s family name, Marmeladova, is derived from her father’s family name, Marmeladov.

Thought in turbulent times

19th century Russia and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

By Madeleine Oldham

Just as the death of a loved one can motivate an individual to confront his or her own mortality, war and turmoil can at times elicit a reflective national mood. The second half of the 19th century saw great unrest in Russia, but with it came a remarkable period of intellectual discourse. At the same time that Russia fought with its neighbors and began losing its foothold as a formidable presence in the global landscape, philosophical movements flourished, and literary giants Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky produced their best work. Russia’s thinkers and writers ensured that their country did not completely disappear into the background while it began to topple from its pinnacle of influence.

From 1853–1856, the Crimean War pitted the Russian Empire against Turkey, France, the United Kingdom and Sardinia (and included pressure from Austria and Prussia). Standing alone, Russia did not fare well, and the war dislodged its status as the dominant power of Southeastern Europe. It took decades to recover from the human and economic losses incurred both at home and abroad.

The Emancipation Reform of 1861 abolished serfdom, and though well-intended and relatively well-planned, fell down in its execution because many peasants remained unsatisfied by its terms. Often compared to the United States’ freeing of slaves, the legislation failed to create an appropriate transition from servitude to liberation, and left room for long-repressed anger to bubble over into violence and strife. The Narodnik movement quickly rose up and gained momentum, calling for peasants to overthrow the government. (The Narodniks also embraced the Great Man theory that Dostoevsky made a pivotal part of Crime and Punishment, which asserted that the men who affect the course of history are unafraid to challenge or disregard the same rules that govern other men.)

Between 1863 and 1865, conflict arose in Western Russia with the January Uprising where large numbers of young Polish men refused to be drafted by the Russian army. Though largely unsuccessful, their guerilla tactics persisted in creating a distraction for the Russian government and further delaying the nation’s restrengthening after the devastating losses of the Crimean War.

During this tumultuous time when the seeds of 1917’s Russian Revolution were being planted, philosophy began to rise from the shadows of what is sometimes known as the philosophical dark age of Russia, from about 1825 to 1860. Tsar Nicholas I, feeling that foreign ideas and intellectual stimulation led to revolt, placed restrictions on access to higher education and passed far-reaching censorship laws with harsh penalties. Unsatisfied, he outlawed all travel outside the Russian Empire and went on to eradicate philosophy departments in universities.

Perhaps as a result of government intervention and suppression, Russian philosophy never attained the exalted status of its European counterparts. But despite the hostile atmosphere, the exchange of ideas among men of letters and intellectuals could not be squelched. Just as the Tsar had feared, the foreign influence of thinkers like Hegel and later Nietzsche crept into the Russian conversation, and lively debates about theological attitudes and what man was meant to do on this earth buzzed throughout the Empire.

Dostoevsky meanwhile, having spent most of the tumultuous ‘50s in prison and Siberia, and the early ‘60s trying to solidify his financial footing and reputation as a writer, also turned his thoughts toward increasingly expansive ideas. His questions gathered depth, his work grew in scope and in 1866 he wrote the first of his four great novels, Crime and Punishment.

Crime and Punishment started out in Dostoevsky’s mind as a short novella about a theory he’d been pondering: that people have an innate moral compulsion to seek out punishment for their sins, and that this compulsion can’t be mastered or overridden. At the same time he was also writing a novel he was calling The Drunkards, about the Russian epidemic of “drunkenness” and the havoc it could wreak on families and loved ones. He urgently desired to finish and publish this novel expeditiously in hopes of securing payment that would help him quell his mounting debts. The first publisher he approached turned him down, and he swallowed his pride and wrote to Mikhail Katkov, editor of the hugely influential journal, The Russian Messenger. The writings of Turgenev and Tolstoy had already appeared multiple times, but Dostoevsky and Katkov had a prickly relationship, carrying on a sustained public exchange of heated ideological dialogue. Though they vehemently disagreed on many ideas, Katkov respected Dostoevsky as both a thinker and a writer, and agreed to furnish him with an advance and publish the story.

Dostoevsky told Katkov that it would be finished in a few weeks, a month at most. Shortly thereafter, he threw out his first draft that he completed in November for a December deadline, and his two story ideas merged into one. The Drunkards morphed into the Marmeladov story line inside the larger novel, and he adjusted his narration from first to third person. He ended up publishing the substantial and significant work in monthly installments throughout 1866.

In the second half of his life, Dostoevsky embraced his faith in Christianity and the Russian Orthodox Church. He spurned the western ideas that were infiltrating his country, and with Crime and Punishment, refuted many of the popular ideological movements of the time. These included utilitarianism, a philosophy with socialist leanings that put forth ideas about the collective good and ends justifying means; rational egoism, which purported that human beings exist to seek pleasure and to perpetuate self-interest; and nihilism, which declared human life meaningless and lacking any kind of purpose.

He instead infused into the novel his beliefs that God does exist and can be found in human beings, and that the way to God is through great suffering that will eventually lead to forgiveness. His focus on man’s part of the equation earned him a reputation as one of the forerunners of existentialism—a movement that centered on questions regarding the nature of human existence. In his book Twilight of the Idols, the most famous existentialist, Friedrich Nietzsche, said of Dostoevsky that he was “the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn.”

In a recent article in The Guardian newspaper of London, writer Michael Billington notes of Dostoevsky that “his four great books pose a troubling question: If God does not exist, then is everything permissible?” With these kinds of probing yet sweeping inquiries that dive straight to the nerve center of human curiosity, Dostoevsky offered his turbulent country a reminder to pause and reflect, giving a great gift of introspection to a vulnerable nation.

The life and times of Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoevsky

By Madeleine Oldham

Rarely is it easy to pinpoint the precise places where a writer’s life and art mingle and diverge. However, there’s little question that the events of Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoevsky’s life significantly impacted his work. Dostoevsky, a thinking man with an intense drive to make sense of the world around him, relentlessly examined his own life in relationship to the meaning and purpose of human existence. His worldview shifted and changed in response to what transpired around him, but his intellectual rigor remained steadfast throughout the course of his life.

Born in 1821, Dostoevsky grew up in Moscow the second of seven children. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was 15, and his father under mysterious circumstances two years later. His father’s death was recorded as being of natural causes, but it is commonly believed that he was murdered by his own serfs in reaction to his violent temper and harsh treatment of those around him. (If true, this perhaps also signified the burgeoning discontent that eventually resulted in the Emancipation Reform of 1861 that gave serfs their freedom.) Dostoevsky’s father also had a well-documented problem with alcohol abuse.

Shortly before his father’s death Dostoevsky was sent to military engineering school in St. Petersburg. He received a commission as a second lieutenant in 1842, but left one year later to launch a writing career. A small income from his father’s estate may have allowed him to pursue his literary leanings. He published his first novel, Poor Folk, in 1846 to a warm critical reception, gaining early national recognition for his talents.

Dostoevsky quickly fell in with a group of intellectual dissidents known as the Petrashevsky Circle (named for its founder Mikhail Petrashevsky), delighted by their lively discussion of Western ideas and writings like those of French socialist Fourier and German philosopher Hegel. The Russian government considered this material dangerously provocative and traitorous, and consequently declared any reading, writing or possession of it illegal. The Circle disregarded such mandates and continued to meet and dream about a complete overhaul of the current social order.

Dostoevsky did not embrace revolutionary action as much as revolutionary thought—he was more interested in utopia than uprising. His mind thrilled to confront big ideas about what is best for society at large, but he displayed little desire to act on what he might come up with, other than to write about it in a theoretical fashion. Though this proved the case for many members of the Circle and its offshoots, the government considered their activities hostile and threatening, and eventually arrested and imprisoned them.

Thus began a major turning point in Dostoevsky’s life. After their arrest in 1849, Tsar Nicholas I sentenced the intellectuals to execution. Semyonovsky Square was prepared, the firing squad readied, and the prisoners marched out to meet their doom. A messenger arrived with a reprieve at the eleventh hour, and the event was revealed to be nothing but an elaborate staging of a lesson the Tsar wanted to teach them. It’s said that one prisoner’s fragile mental state could not bear the fear elicited by his perceived imminent demise, and he went insane. Dostoevsky maintained his sanity, but gained a new understanding of the meaning of fortitude.

Disillusioned after his traumatic experience, he turned his thoughts away from surreptitious Western influences and toward his own people. He gave up his revolutionary leanings and joined his sympathies with Slavophilia, a pro-Russian intellectual movement that celebrated the roots of its nation and believed it was every citizen’s duty to contribute to Russia’s cultural legacy.

Following his reprieve he was sent to finish out the remaining five years of his sentence in a prison in Siberia, and upon his release was forced to join the Siberian military. There, in one bright spot in an otherwise dismal period for Dosteovsky, he met his future wife, whom he married in 1857. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1859 and floundered somewhat while trying to establish a writing life that would generate income. He founded several failed literary journals and wrote a couple of less well-received novels, barely staying afloat.

Things took a turn for the worse in 1864 when his wife died, and shortly thereafter his brother Mikhail, with whom he was very close. Though Dostoevsky had no reliable source of earnings, he took on the responsibilities of settling his brother’s considerable debts and caring for his family. Dostoevsky racked up huge debts of his own due to a depression-fueled gambling addiction, and found himself in a relatively hopeless financial situation.

Fortunately his writing career began to gather steam. He committed himself to writing near-impossible quantities of text in short amounts of time and yet managed to produce some of his best work under those constricted circumstances. In 1867 he married his second wife, his stenographer Anna Grigorevna Snitkina. His reputation grew more venerable as the years went on, and upon his death in 1881 he was already considered a Russian national treasure and one of the greatest writers and thinkers the world had ever seen.

Watch now

Production B-roll

B-roll of Crime and Punishment—three minutes of excerpts.

Sharon Ott

Director Sharon Ott introduces Crime and Punishment.



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