The best theatrical adaptations of literature don't require that you first read the original.
They aren't "Cliff's Notes." They don't tease. They exist independent of their sources. And they don't make you feel like you are in a classroom rather than a theater.
For a terrific example of an adaptation that works, go no further than the Indiana Repertory Theatre. On the IRT's ideally suited upper stage, with the audience as witness on three sides, Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" has become the "Crime and Punishment" of playwrights Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, director John Green, a trio of just-right actors and a first-rate design team. They pulled the raw material from Dostoevsky but shaped it into something in and of itself.
Through their talents, the massive novel has been transformed into a crisp-but-never-rushed, smart-but-never-intimidating 90-minute theatrical experience that's as good as anything seen on Indy stages in years.
Don't worry if you can't recall—or never knew—the story. The adapters take care of that cleanly but without tired exposition. "Crime and Punishment" concerns a poor student wrestling with philosophical questions, including whether extraordinary men have the right to commit crimes if they see a higher purpose.
Far from an academic exercise, the issue matters to Rashkolnikov (Andrew Ahrens)—matters enough to make this very real protagonist a suspect in the death of two women, a pawnbroker and her sister. His antagonist is Inspector Profiry (Peter DeFaria), whose method of inquiry is indirect but effective. Jenny McKnight plays both victims as well as Sonia, the prostitute who may have some clues to redemption. Their drama is played out in flashbacks that make maximum use of the theater space, offer a minimum of multi-character confusion, and grab the audience by the heart, soul and head.
Never for a second during "Crime and Punishment" was I aware at all that anything is missing. I didn't need a study guide. Instead, I was pulled headlong into the story and characters on stage, undistracted by the elements that aren't.
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