I usually try not to read any reviews before I see a show, but in the case of Crime and Punishment, I made an exception: I read my own review of the production’s debut last year at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I lavishly praised the show—a joint production of Live Action Set, Dangerous Productions, and the Soap Factory—and noted that the producers were hoping to re-stage Crime and Punishment after the Fringe ended. “If that happens,” I urged, “don’t miss it.”
It did, and I didn’t: last night I descended again into the basement of the Soap Factory to reacquaint myself with the music (and the smell) of the night. The show is hard for me to review this time around, in part because I’m friends with several of the creators and performers—some of whom, in the dark frenzy last time around, I hadn’t even realized I knew—and in part because last night was my third experience with the show in its various configurations. Last summer the show felt alien and shocking; by now, the twisted subterranean streets of St. Petersburg feel like home.
The second experience I refer to wasn’t Crime and Punishment itself, but rather the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement—which, last fall, incorporated much of the set of Crime and Punishment as well as some of its devices, including the masks audience members are made to wear. In sum, the three different experiences now feel like a trilogy of despair, though as a playgoer it’s hard to be too despairing when dozens of the area’s most talented theater artists collaborate over months’ time on such an innovative and successful production.
The most striking switch-up from last year’s Fringe version of Crime and Punishment is that the entrance has been reconfigured: co-director Noah Bremer, who also leads the Haunted Basement, has devised (with co-directors Joanna Harmon and Tyler Olsen) yet another way to get people into the Soap Factory’s basement. Last year you entered through the building’s main gallery, which had been turned into a ghoulish nightclub; now, you cross to an alternate entrance and proceed downstairs to an eerie tea room. When the experience begins, audience members slowly filter into the space, where they’re gradually joined by performers.
Another new twist is that there are three different levels of experience this time around. “Searchers” ($25) get to see the show. “Fever Dreamers” ($40) enter with special objects that flag them to have unique encounters. “The Naked Ones” ($100) experience encounters that I can only imagine, since I was merely a Fever Dreamer, but they’re promised “a tailored experience and are given the most opportunities to become completely immersed in the world of Crime and Punishment.” Oh, and they get a reserved couch in the tea room.
I won’t spoil any surprises, but there are other new elements and spaces to explore in this valedictory staging of one of the most distinctive, effective shows I’ve seen in the Twin Cities. The sizable team behind the show have created a completely immersive world for audience members to explore. You can’t see everything, but in a sense you’re also seeing everything at once: nothing in this dark little city happens in isolation (unless the Naked Ones are off sacrificing a goat or something). The experience is non-linear, and yet the directors have given it a sense of timing and momentum, as performers seemingly respond to coordinated cues.
Fittingly for its subject matter, this is a show that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty—literally and otherwise. I feel like I know these tortured characters inside and out; now, I guess I’d better read the damn book.