Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.
Pictured: Ilse Zacharias and Drew Schad. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
By Elizabeth Ellis
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece Crime and Punishment became a classic due in part to some of the challenging questions it posed, which were relevant not only in 19th century Russia, but throughout humanity. Why does God allow us to suffer? Can an ultimately good act be achieved by any means necessary? Is true self-redemption ever attainable? Does the end always justify the means? In SHATTERED GLOBE’s lean and modern production of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, with a moody yet gripping adaptation by Chris Hannan and a fantastic cast led by Louis Contey’s sharp and unflinching direction, these and other questions feel as fresh and urgent and timely now as they first did more than 150 years ago.
Former law student Rodion Raskolnikov (Drew Schad, in an impassioned yet focused performance) ekes out an impoverished life in a tenement house in St. Petersburg, subsisting off the meager contributions from his mother Pulkheria Alexandrovna and local pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna (the wonderfully scheming Daria Harper plays both). While Raskolnikov bemoans his empty pockets, he refuses to take action to improve his station in life. He fancies himself to be intellectually superior to most of the riff-raff that surround him, and that he has far more potential to do good for society. This perspective forms the basis for his justification to murder Alyona for money and some of her expensive possessions. When Alyona’s dim but sweet sister Lizaveta (the terrific Jazzma Pryor) happens upon the crime, Raskolnikov murders her as well. As ruthless and self-serving as his behavior demonstrates, Raskolnikov is not without a heart and understanding. He falls apart when he finds that his dear sister Dunya (the heartbreaking Christina Gorman) is reluctantly entering a marriage with a wealthy suitor to secure the family’s future. Raskolnikov also finds himself deeply affected by the local drunkard, Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov and his lovely and devoted daughter, Sonya (Darren Jones and Ilse Zacharias, both terrific). Semyon’s drinking financially ruined his family, and led to Sonya’s painful decision to become a prostitute.
Crime spree over, Raskolnikov finds he has stolen enough from Alyona to create the future he so desires for himself and his family. He also confesses his love for Sonya, who he considers a paragon of beauty and virtue despite her present circumstances. This shift in his fortunes ultimately proves to be his undoing, and subsequent encounters with the shrewd and experienced police detective Porfiry Petrovich (the excellent Patrick Thornton) unconsciously reveal his complicity. Sonya urges Raskolnikov to confess his crimes to Petrovich, and her love and devotion to him, even as he faces a sentence of years of hard labor in Siberia, become the basis for his great love and redemption.
The play opens in a dream sequence in Raskolnikov’s mind, and under Contey’s direction, all the action feels like moving through the sequences in a dream. The entire ensemble, including those playing multiple roles, gives top-notch performances. Nick Mozak’s industrial set utilizes movable doors and benches to suggest a funeral bier, Raskolnikov’s home, Alyona’s pawn shop, and the streets of St. Petersburg, all above the floor painted with the glowing, beautiful faces of Russian icons. Hailey Rakowiecki’s timeless costumes show the dreariness of the people and their lives, save for Sonya’s bright red fancy dress, which illuminates her beauty. The characters also share a leather coat just like Raskolnikov’s, as each of them wears the coat and mirrors him and his emotional state as he moves through the play. The sound design and lighting design from Christopher Kriz and Shelley Strasser at first create a dark and moody scenario, but with ultimately a feeling of hopefulness and light.
Several lines in the script show themselves to be as pertinent now, perhaps unfortunately, as when Dostoevsky first wrote them: “Everybody wants to change the world; no one thinks to change themselves,” and “If you despise them, they will elect you.” These statements, plus contentious issues such as redemption through faith and love, moral relativism, the purity of ideology, nihilism, and self-preservation still merit discussion and examination today. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT offers an excellent opportunity to examine ourselves and ask ourselves this hard question: if, faced with these perilous situations, what would we do?
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT runs through October 20th. For more information visit shatteredglobe.org.