Transforming Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment into a comedy is an intriguing idea. This is a deeply tragic story, and mining it for laughs seems like a tall hill to climb. Unfortunately, like the main character, Rodion Raskolnikov (Nik Walker), the show is conflicted – it just can’t decide what it wants to be – drama or comedy.
The novel itself is long and complex, so compacting it into 90 minutes is a tough challenge on its own. Raskolnikov has just graduated from law school and can now help his impoverished family. Unfortunately, greed, corruption, bad luck and bad choices stand in his way. The play ably tells an abridged version of the story, with many of the rougher edges smoothed out, but that may not necessarily be a strength.
The narrative is fine, but it often interferes with the comedy. Again, Crime and Punishment is dour Russian literature – dark torment of the soul kind of stuff. As a result, the play has two distinct modes and must toggle back and forth rather than seamlessly exist in both worlds. It’s a little whiplashy, and there are long sections when the comedic aspects simply disappear. Sorry, we’re doing serious drama now. Laughs in a minute.
The play does have its funny moments, but the returns diminish. Around half a dozen jokes get recycled more than once. The cast has only five actors, who (mostly) play multiple characters, so onstage costume changes are must. It’s funny for awhile. The same is true of bearded women and name-checking famous Russians. The schtick wears thin.
The cast does an admirable job, but they too seem split. Walker, Stephanie Gibson and (to some degree) Vincent Randazzo are tasked with the serious drama. Juliet Brett and Orville Mendoza shoulder almost all of the comedy. Mendoza in particular gets the lion’s share of the laughs. It’s like they’re performing two different plays.
The title sets up an expectation and it kind of falls short. Perhaps the dark source material is too much to overcome. The play is well-acted, ably directed and interesting, but ultimately, it is more Crime and Punishment than comedy.