Sin and Simplicity

The Malenki Theater's 'For the Sin,' an adaptation of 'Crime and Punishment,' leaves the spectator hypnotized.

The Malenki Theater has been in existence for quite a few years and operates in a similar way to the Gesher Theater: It is run by theater people who came from Russia, it bases itself on literary materials that in part originate in Russian culture and its initial performances in Israel were held in Russian. However, the theater's name points to a characteristic, which sets it apart from the Gesher Theater: Malenki means "tiny" and this theater does indeed go about its business modestly. Its plays are intended for a small audience and most of them have thus far only been performed a few times.

Nevertheless, the theater has chalked up a number of successes, including "The Old Woman and the Miracle-Maker," based on stories by Daniel Harms. These kind of performances have revealed to Israelis a type of theater of the absurd different from the Western one we have become accustomed to. The theater's new play, "For the Sin," which was first performed several months ago, has already acquired many admirers.

This time round, the theater has achieved something truly formidable: It has produced an adaptation of the novel that, were its title translated faithfully from the Russian, would be called "Crime and Punishment." However, the novel's first Hebrew translation was influenced by a moral choice and unlike most English translations refers to it as "Sin and Punishment" - not without justification, since Raskolnikov undergoes a process, from the recognition that his crime has moral justification to the acknowledgment that he must repent the sin he has committed.

The production, directed by Igor Berezin, is impressive in its simple and very powerful scenes, including, for example, the scene of the abuse of a wretched mare, a kind of preparation for the murder of the old woman. The simplicity of the adaptation and the directing also impress. The production in effect concentrates on the conflict between Raskolnikov and Inspector Porfiry Petrovitch (apart from a brilliant scene with Marmeladov, impressively played by Dima Ross, who also plays the old woman).

Paradoxically, the play's main strength lies not in Dori Engel's performance in the leading role (to my surprise, even though I sat in the front row, I found it hard to see his eyes, which were half-shut throughout the evening). The real star is Dudu Niv, as the inspector. True, traditionally this is the best role in any adaptation of "Crime and Punishment." To Niv's credit, however, it must be said that he demonstrates a fascinating and strong presence as well as the ability to control every one of the muscles of his face and body.

The spectator finds himself hypnotized by every blink of an eyelid, movement of a lip and tremble of a finger. This production has a great many fine qualities; it is worth seeing if only to watch a performer like this in action.

"For the Sin," based on "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Malenki Theater. Translation: Peter Kriksonov; adaptation: Boris Yentin and Igor Berezin, who also directed; sets and costumes: Paulina Adamov.