POST: 'Crime and Punishment' - it's those details that made my experience intimate

What's it about?

In the hot slums of St. Petersburg lives Raskolnikov, a former student struggling with debt and disillusionment. As a crime plagues the city his journey for redemption begins. 

What'd I experience?

The West End Theatre has one of the coolest vibes - I never thought I’d say that about a church. While it’s technically a church, the West End takes up all of the second floor at the Church of St.Paul and St.Andrew on 86th. I haven’t stepped foot in a church in probably more than five years, so not only was I getting to see play, but possibly reuniting with the Holy Spirit.

Although no reunion took place, I saw a hell of a show (pun fully intended). It’s really strange, because it’s a Dostoevsky story so I was expecting a lot more confusion on my end. Yet, even amongst all the old school Russian references and endless names that are impossible for me to even differentiate, there is a very straightforward statement about humans relationship with punishment.

Besides the story itself, I found there were a lot of little things that sounded familiar to me. For example, as I was sitting waiting for the play to start and there was some Russian ballad playing. Once I started listening to it carefully, I could have sworn it was the exact same melody as a famous Ecuadorian ballad I grew up listening to. I texted my brother as soon as I heard it, because it's the last place I would have imaged to ever find a relation to.

It’s those small little things that made my experience really intimate. I always remember really tiny details about shows like this, because they have that nostalgic connection to something of mine. It’s always a pleasant surprise to relate to a culture that I would have never expected to associate with. The last little quirk that made going to this play all the more memorable was the attention to detail the crew and cast had to its audience. Unholy hell was it literally Hell outside the church doors (puns on fire - puns on puns) and it's the first time I have ever been offered a free cup of cold water even rarer a frozen balloon. YES - a frozen water balloon.

I’ve clearly failed to think of this otherworldly innovation to cooling down as I’ve been stupidly wasting my time with ice filled zip-lock bags.

Alright, enough about how cool this theatre is.

The story follows Raskolnikov, who I will be calling Ras, because well look at his name, dude. Ras is down on his luck, both financially and creatively as a writer, soon this leads him to do a stupid stupid thing - kill two women. And while that sounds like it would be the climax of the story, it’s really the effect on him of having done that, that becomes the focal point. Ras is overall a good person, but when put under the strain of societies standards he finds himself with limited options and so his ethics are challenged. That's where the whole part of being human becomes inconvenient.

His whole journey to finding his redemption is a long one, but what I really focused in on was some of his final words about all the crap he had to go through to forgive himself for his doings. When a good individual commits a crime they’re more likely to feel a stronger sense of punishment, with the guilt that is inevitable when committing a bad deed. A bad person on the other hand is likely to have calculated the bad deed and so is less likely to feel guilt, because they weren't pressured into committing a crime - they wanted to. So, should the level of punishment be the same for both individuals?

I instantly thought about our modern day love-hate relation with punishment, we do have plea bargains and other options that allow criminals to get reduced sentences and such, but I think what we still fail on (just like they did back in the 1800’s) is reintegrating these ‘renewed’ people into society again. I’ve seen endless documentaries and movies with themes about crime and consequence, but I felt like Ras’s story was supposedly an old one yet the similarities with ‘modern’ day were incredibly relatable.

Watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at 13 was probably pointless for my peanut sized tween mind, but I remember being terrified of therapists - now 2 therapists and a psychiatrist later I’m still a little scared. The reason I thought of that movie was the whole system of punishment is pretty rigged, even more so if someone is already targeting you. In the film an mental institution (which are related to today’s prisons) sedates its patients instead of helping them reintegrate into society, but Jack Nicholson's character decides to rebel against the rules of the mental institution and is immediately targeted. Same with Ras, although he did indeed commit a crime, he has the right to choose whether or not to tell his side of the story and defend character without being penalized for doing so. As soon as we take away the essential rights promised to an individual - regardless of who they’re - we are dehumanizing them, telling them that the one mistake they committed has made them an entirely bad person, and that’s not always the case. Humans makes mistake, they’re are flawed and stupid just like they’re are good and brilliant, whichever they choose to be should not taint the fact that they are of the same species and have the same rights to speak for themselves.

Want to see it?

$23 tickets

Crime and Punishment
The Russian Arts Theater and Studio
@ The West End Theatre
thru Aug. 27