Theater Review: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: A COMEDY (Old Globe in San Diego)

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by Dan Zeff on July 23, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


The Old Globe Theater is presenting the world premiere of Crime and Punishment, A Comedy and it is a gem of a satire on one of the most famous novels in 19th-century Russian literature. In a bit under 90 uninterrupted minutes, co-authors Steve Rosen and Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) have packed author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 classic with clever wordplay, quips, and sight gags, while giving due attention to the original’s exploration of morality, guilt, and psychological and physical violence.

The adaptation makes room for about 50 speaking characters, rendered by a spectacularly versatile ensemble of five performers. Some of the characters are taken from the novel, others invented for this production, and they all meld flawlessly as they insert references to Russian literature. such as The Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, and Stanislavski.

(from left) Orville Mendoza and Nik Walker

But the script isn’t just a gaudy verbal display of nudge-nudge wink-wink inside jokes. Rosen and Greenberg have salted their play with highly dramatic interludes that deal with Dostoevsky’s major themes. The play’s title may be subtitled as a comedy, but the ensemble often grabs the viewer’s attention with heated exchanges among characters gripped by fierce passions. The swings between humor and intensity kept the audience continuously involved.

The plot is a cluster of incidents in assorted connections. Because the cast changes identities so rapidly, good luck trying to make coherent storytelling sense out of the action. But that is an observation, not a criticism. The large matinee audience seemed thoroughly engaged in the narrative.

Orville Mendoza (center),
Stephanie Gibson, Nik Walker, Juliet Brett, Vincent Randazzo

The ensemble consists of Vincent Randazzo, Juliet Brett, Stephanie Gibson, Nik Walker, and Orville Mendoza (replaced by Andrew Polec August 8-13). Each performer delivers a performance of spot-on credibility, no matter how broad the comedy or how intense the dramatic moments are. Director Greenberg kept the pace fast throughout but the players were with him every moment.

Juliet Brett, Orville Mendoza, Nik Walker, Vincent Randazzo, Stephanie Gibson

The in-the-round stage doesn’t allow for much scenery, but the battery of outstanding designers managed to create an authentic 19th-century visual and aural Russian environment. The backstage honor roll is led by Wilson Chin (scenic design), Alejo Vietti (costume design), Amanda Zieve (lighting design), and Lindsay Jones (sound design). Plus a big hand for the flawless casting by Callieri Jensen Davis and production stage manager Marie Jahelka for her role in running the high-velocity action and multitude of costumes so smoothly.

(from left) Juliet Brett (front) with Nik Walker, Vincent Randazzo,
Orville Mendoza, and Stephanie Gibson

On departing the theater, the audience was in a gleeful mood. Initially many doubtless were uneasy about how they would take to a dramatized version of a Russian literary work renowned for its relentlessly grim style. Not to worry. There likely isn’t a more entertaining 90 minutes on display on any stage in southern California.

photos by Jim Cox

Crime and Punishment, A Comedy
The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
Tues and Wed at 7; Thurs and Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on August 20, 2023
for tickets (beginning at $29), call 619.323.GLOBE or visit The Old Globe

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