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A Lass for all ladies: an interview with Crime’s leading (and only) actress

Note: 2009 seemed like the year of Hana: I kept seeing her in various productions. All her work was excellent, but my favorite was probably her Ariel in Tempest at Seattle Shakespeare.

Hana Lass embodies every woman on stage in Intiman’s production of Crime and Punishment at the Seattle Center. Luckily, this upcoming Seattle actress is used to quick changes and has already played a wide range of characters on Seattle’s stages. She took time off from a busy tech week preparing for her second outing as Crime and Punishment’s Sonia to answer a few questions.

You've had a number of roles at the smaller companies: Seattle Shakespeare, Book-It, Mirror Stage, Strawberry Theatre Workshop, and the recent Crime and Punishment at the Capitol Hill Arts Center. How important are the fringe theaters in Seattle to building a career here?

Every actor has their own path, but certainly in my case having the full range of opportunities in this town has been essential to the development of my career.

I've never had a showcase or an internship or an important introduction to a casting director that was provided for me by someone else.

I started out by auditioning for and performing in plays in the fringe, which then gave me the experience that helped me earn roles with the companies you listed above—most of which, personally, I would describe as mid-range theaters in this town. It's at these theaters where, as a still-developing actor, you get the chance to work with seasoned professional actors and stage managers, and some really amazing directors. There's no question, I think, that the diversity of the Seattle theater scene is a benefit to anyone involved in it. I hope that diversity continues to flourish.

How did you get cast as Sonia in the
Crime and Punishment that played at the Capitol Hill Arts Center?

Sheila Daniels, our director, had directed me previously in Strawberry Theatre Workshop's production of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. In that show I played multiple characters as well, so maybe that was why Sheila thought of me when she held auditions for C&P.

When you first read for the role, how well did you know the book?

I was familiar with the story but had not read the book when I auditioned for the part. Once we were cast, though, we all agreed to read the same translation before entering the rehearsal process.

Any reservations (or enthusiasms) about playing Sonia in this speedy version of the story?

I think my first anxious thought was that I didn't look anything like Sonia—this iconic figure in Western literature—as she's described in the book.

Of course, when we actually started rehearsing the play I realized there were many other things to be anxious about! One of the (nice) challenges about the Sonia in this play is that, in my opinion, she's a little more complex than she is in the book. It took me a while to shake off my preconceptions about her that I'd developed from reading the book and just do what's written in the play—which is one of the reasons I didn't re-read the book for this go-round.

In the Capitol Hill version, you played several characters, including Alyona. Are you doing that again in this production?

Yes, I will again be playing Alyona, Lizaveta, and Raskolnikov's mother, although it should be noted that this multi-casting is not just a directorial or budgetary choice. It is actually stipulated in the script that the actress playing Sonia play all the female roles and that the actor playing Porfiry play all the other male roles. I think it's a wonderful device by the playwrights Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus to illustrate how haunted Raskolnikov is.

This isn't just "CliffsNotes Crime & Punishment." It's a thoughtfully constructed memory play that takes place inside the shattered mind of someone desperately trying to reconcile a terrible act. I think it's a really fresh way of approaching this well-known narrative.

So, how do you make the mental switch from Sonia to the other characters? And back again?

For better or worse, in this play I don't really have time to prepare off-stage from one character to the next. I've found actually, that for the Sonia scenes—which are all very high-stakes and emotionally loaded—that, ironically, it's helpful to walk into them with very little ramp-up. It allows me to be genuinely surprised by the things that happen.

Of course, we did our homework and found the specific physical attributes of each character, but in the run of the show it's usually just throwing on the costume as quickly as possible, finding the character's physicality as I walk out onto the stage, and saying the words. Mercifully, when you have good writing and good scene partners, it's far easier to make those kinds of turns.

With the move of Crime and Punishment from Capitol Hill Arts Center to Intiman, has anything changed with the production?

I'm finding the most significant change is adjusting from the intimate alley style set-up (audience on two sides of the stage) that we had at CHAC to the large proscenium/thrust we'll have at Intiman. The small alley format not only allowed but required that we actors focus directly on our scene partners. Intiman's configuration means we do a lot less eye-to-eye, face-to-face acting.

The essence of the story and how we're telling it is exactly the same; as Sheila told us on the first day of rehearsal for this Intiman production, she didn't feel the need to reinvent the wheel. At the same time, I think we've all viewed this as a rare opportunity to delve deeper into this incredibly dense little play.

And, of course, the physical world of this production is so very different. Sheila still wanted to keep the space stripped down, so the set that Carey Wong has designed is essentially three chairs and three doors in an open room—but it's deceptive in its apparent simplicity…the audience will be in for a few surprises.

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