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HIGH ART: Eternal stain elevates ‘Crime’
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Dostoyevsky’s writing does not necessarily conjure butterflies in my stomach when imagining it on stage. But I was fascinated, captivated and am still deconstructing moments from Off Square Theatre Company’s recent production of “Crime and Punishment.” Adapted to stage by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, this play is an intense 90-minute performance thick with symbolism, rich in emotional and visual display, and disconcertingly contemporary in its themes.
While I could write profusely about the captivating performances by leads Jamie Reilly and Brian Landis Folkins, I would rather focus on a singular visual element and choice made by director John Hanlon. For those unfamiliar with the plot of “Crime and Punishment,” here is a brief synopsis:
The main character, Raskolnikov (Folkins), a poor, emotionally afflicted, educated and intellectual man, is being interrogated concerning the murders of two women in his community, Alyona and Lizaveta. Alyona has held power over the neighbor men by loaning money and charging outrageous interest against their personal treasures. The play is told using three sets: the interrogation room at the police station; Raskolnikov’s tiny, dilapidated apartment; and the doorstep of the victims.
Throughout the play the audience is led into the conflicted and pained psyche of the protagonist. While I spent the first half of the play empathizing with this character, it was the murder scene and explicit treatment of the crime that clouded my quasi Robin-Hood romantic lens. Hanlon and fight-choreographer Marius Hanford IV decided to simulate real blood using a visceral-liquid concoction held inside the actors’ costumes and punctured upon contact with Raskolnikov’s axe.
“Marius suggested a variety of options for the murder scene, like a red scarf or lighting. Having something as literal as we did brought the impact of the crime into play and made it less abstract. To have [blood] on the stage for the last third of the play, there is no uncertainty of [Raskolnikov’s] guilt, and it’s also what’s in his head. This remaining smear is what he needs to be clean from,” Reilly said.
The red stain is smeared across the set as Raskolnikov drags the body of Alyona back into her apartment. This vibrant spot remains throughout the play. The unfading, boldness of the blood keeps the murder fresh, becoming a metaphor for the main character, whose life is permanently soiled by his actions.
Given the predisposition to highlighting violence in our media, I think it was very important that the murder in this play was treated with a graphic dose of reality. Because the emotion portrayed by Folkins is so potent and believable, initially I wanted to side with him and hoped he would get away with the murder. Avoiding any sense of poetry or metaphor in the murder scene made it possible to empathize with the feeling of desperation, but impossible to further empathize with the lead character.
On a larger level, the humanity of the lead character is what made the blood more real. Unlike many of the fractured and sensationalized images of violence we see everyday in our news, this play brought me so much closer to a dialogue about humanity and justice. While part of me wished for more blood, the subtlety was enough to make it apparent without becoming an exhibition of gore.