Sign of the lean times? Misanthropes reign at Berkeley Rep and Cutting Ball
In what maybe can only be considered a sign of the times, bad attitudes abound in two lean productions on either side of the Bay this week. The first comes courtesy of Dostoevsky, badass of 19th-century Russian literature, whose rascal Raskolnikov (an excellent Tyler Pierce) stalks feverishly across Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage in a bracingly focused new adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus. The 90-minute intermission-less crime-and-punishment spree which marks the return of director Sharon Ott, the Rep's artistic director from 1984 to 1997 is largely psychological in nature. It takes place after the fact of the double homicide at the novel's heart without any doubt about the perpetrator or the motive although Inspector Porfiry (a charmingly avuncular but cunning J.R. Horne), playing smooth cat to Raskolnikov's bumptious mouse, would have his only suspect believe otherwise for now. (Delia MacDougall rounds out a fine cast as the prostitute Sonia and others in the immediate orbit of Raskolnikov's fervid, convoluted designs.)
No, this is a man already caught; he just hasn't realized it yet. In the play's shrewdly concentrated vantage on the novel, it's Raskolnikov's slow dawning grasp of his actions and fate that matters. And even then it's only, for Dostoevsky the Christian existentialist, the beginning, as evinced by the echoing question, "Do you believe Lazarus rose from the dead?" To this end, Christopher Barreca's inspired scenic design evokes the reclusive and open-ended nature of his predicament at once: so daunting the difference between inside and out, but so many ready passages spring open too through these thin partitions, as a mind "unhinged by theories" contemplates what separates itself from the other.
This division comes back in an aggressively funny, coolly insouciant piece of theater terrorism now up in a laser-focused, captivating production (and I mean captivating you don't dare budge for the 60-minute duration) from Cutting Ball Theater. The Bay Area premiere of Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing) is nothing you want to miss, or a nothing you want very much to see, especially if you ever wondered what might have happened if Groucho Marx had postponed his birth until he might be cast in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Bay Area audiences were introduced to Eno's blazing wit and word play last year in Berkeley Rep's local premiere of Tragedy: A Tragedy, but Thom Pain, a tortuous and wonderfully hostile-hospitable monologue exploring that same thin membrane between a Me and a You, achieves a kind of ideal setting and performance in this intimate production executed to the hilt by a very impressive Jonathan Bock, under admirable direction by Marissa Wolf. The less you know going in, the better. Just go, dig a finger into your collar, clench you buttocks, a try not to laugh for an hour.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Through Sun/29, see stage listings for schedule
Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison, Berk.
THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING)
Through April 5, ThursSat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 5 p.m.
Cutting Ball Theater
Exit Theater, 277 Taylor, SF