Crime and Punishment: Story of Redemption

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                                                                                                                        On November 25, the Orfey Theater premiered the “Crime and Punishment” postdramatic play based on Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky’s novel with the same name as its opening project. The play was directed by M.Batbold and cast famous actors such as Sh.Dorjsuren, State Merited Actor P.Erdenezaan, and People’s Actor Ts.Tumurbaatar. According to literature experts, it is challenging to stage Dos- toevsky’ novels as they often show deep ideas of existentialism and Orthodox Christianity. 

DIRECTION WAS INNOVATIVE BUT STILL UNSATISFACTORY 

The first part of the play shows a trial hearing for the main character Rodian Ramonovich Raskolnikov for the axe-murder of two women. Covered by debt and starving to death, Raskolnikov decides to kill an old loan shark. Ultimately, his sister was basically selling herself to the old rich man by marrying him to save her debt-ridden brother. While looting her belongings after killing her with an axe, he finds out that there is another woman in the apartment, who is the younger sister of the loan shark. He panics tremendously since he didn’t expect someone to be there and when he comes to sense, the younger woman was lying dead by his feet, according to Raskolnikov’s confession. 

The judge’s seat was located in the back of the audience at a higher-than-stage level and actors who played the judge, state prosecutor and attorney were televised with close-up shots on a big screen for the audience. The fact that the judge’s seat was “respected” at higher-level was foreshadowing that the jurisdiction will make a “respectable” decision in the end. 

The trial scene might sound like a boring act with a lot of dialogue. However, the director managed to spice it up by adding a lot of exceptional directing features to it. For example, when the prosecutor briefed a detective’s report about his deduction of how the crime happened, actor U.Erdenebayar, who portrayed Zametov, physically acts the crime process by pantomime-style acting while the state prosecutor, portrayed by State Merited Actor D.Gantsetseg, reads out the report.

In another scene, the state prosecutor reads to the court an article written by Raskolnikov. She reads, “People with greater mind can act above the law while weak commoners should obey it”. This reveals Raskolnikov’s Machiavellianism side to the court and the prosecutor accuses him of calling on people to riot against the system. In this scene, the state prosecutor asks the audience to read a paragraph with her from a newspaper, which had been handed out to them before they entered the theater and allowed people to interact.

The stage design was contemporary. While the prosecutor and attorney were acting on the stage, the murderer was seated on a box right under the judge’s projection. The box had a ladder that mechanically comes out of the box to allow the actor to freely move around the stage. It was nice to see that the director had put effort into the set design. Mongolian theaters usually don’t put much effort into making the set design creative and tend to focus too much on decoration, making the stage look tacky. Fortunately, it wasn’t the case for the newly-adapted “Crime and Punishment” play as nothing other than the box and a few chairs were placed on the stage. However, M.Batbold’s directing failed to show whether Raskolnikov truly felt remorse and guilty about the vile crime he committed. On top of that, the part where Raskolnikov is having self- conflict had lackluster directing and people might have wanted to see the part where he decides to murder the loan shark instead. 

STORY OF CHAIRS

They weren’t ordinary chairs. M.Batbold has a unique style of directing. He likes to use props as part of the stage to soothe the transitions be- tween scenes and express points that actors can’t express through their acting. In his first play “Faust”, he used boxes, which are changed from being small to big, as his main prop and stage decor. The main character of “Faust” pulls with all his strength to get the smallest box out of the biggest one. It looked like he was trying to reach his lover and get rid of her pain. On the other hand, in “Crime and Punishment”, M.Batbold used chairs.

When actors leave Raskolnikov on the stage, they were taking away the chairs and making their exeunt. However, every actor, who carried a chair out, acted like they were taking some thoughts, ideas or even fear from the main character to process it in the background. In the final scenes, Raskolnikov comes to the stage, pushing a chair placed horizontally with all his strength and dragging it to the top of his box very slowly. It created intimacy to the audience as it represented the burden he carried in his life and the sins he committed. It was almost like the chairs were acting.

DARK HORSE AMID THE CAST 

Actor M.Lkhagva, commonly known as Guys Lkhagva, played Raskolnikov. His acting was relatively disappointing. People weren’t expecting him to act in theatrical play when he had built a long career as a singer and film actor, but he managed to get cast into the play and showed a different side of himself to the audience. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. 

Theoretically, actors’ real emotions aren’t necessary in a postdramatic play. M.Lkhagva didn’t look like he understood the theater genre and seemed like he was trying to relay his emotion to the audience. However, that wasn’t convincing either as he seemed to force it on the viewers. The directing might have been too much to handle for him. After the trial scene, the story rewinds to 12 hours after the murders and a few days before the trial. This type of “time-shift” is indeed a challenge for any actor and M.Lkhagva couldn’t deliver Raskolnikov’s reverse development well. 

P.Erdenezaan, who played two roles in the play, was the star of the night. He played the judge and Marmaledov, an alcoholic ex-servant. The judge’s role doesn’t require much but Marmaledov only has one scene. Despite his short stage-time, he nailed the monologue of an alcoholic. He talks about how he forced her daughter into prostitution when she was underage and spent all the money she earned on vodka. He makes his last toast and commits suicide. 

“Everyone, even alcohol addicts have honor. It’s better to be a corpse with honor than being a dishonorable father”, he says before killing himself. P.Erdenezaan’s delivery, acting and intonation were on point. He demonstrated that he has more to offer than being just a comedy actor through plays and films. The monologue was directed at Mongolians who blames the system and plays victim while forcing their loved ones to make a sacrifice for them. Other young actors are lucky that they didn’t have to share the stage with P.Erdenezaan as they would have been completely overshadowed by his acting skills.

M.Batbold has a particular type for the female lead. In his previous play, the female lead was a teenager who speaks gently with good manners and naivete. Similarly, G.Zolzaya played Sonya. Her acting wasn’t bad, but people would have preferred a different portrayal of someone who has just lost her crazy stepmother and alcoholic father and been left with her siblings with nothing to inherit. She became a prostitute very young and she had no choice but to keep going for her siblings’ sake. She needed to be a strong and smart woman. Yes, she is only 18 but her cruel life was supposed to have made her mindset and behavior tougher than what was described on stage. Perhaps, the director wanted to be honest to the novel.

Sh.Dorjsuren and Ts.Tumurbaatar also showed their might through experience. Similar to P.Erdenezaan, Sh.Dorjsuren is also a wellknown comedy actor. However, his character’s intimacy showed how powerfully he could act in serious roles. On the other hand, Ts.Tumurbaatar, one of the greatest actors of Mongolia, showed what years of experience can do for an actor. He was the oldest of the cast in the play. While being televised through cameras, he surprisingly nailed both film acting and stage acting.

Among main characters D.Gantsetseg’s state prosecutor character was the most consistent. She had a long scene with many dialogues, but she didn’t show a single flaw. The way she put effort into details of her character was visible to the audience.

PLAYWRIGHTS ARE THE BRIGHTEST STARS

Ya.Bayaraa and E.Bujinlkham deserves the biggest applaud. Converting a novel into a stage play is a tough job as novels include many background stories for each character. They managed to write a story of young passionate people who want to reform the society but get miserably oppressed by the system. In a way, it is a true reflection of the present situation in Mongolia. The way they tastefully made the dialogues colorful using Mongolian metaphors was exceptional. The story written by E.Bujinlkham and Ya.Bayaraa was enough to make anyone who felt the suppression ponder about it a moment more.

Overall, M.Batbold’s second postdramatic play didn’t fulfill the expectations after showing us the magnificent “Faust” in 2020. Nevertheless, the audience can anticipate the young director’s growth as once again, he has proved that he has a lot more to show us in the future.

Khantushig B

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