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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 15, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 7
Forbidden love - Book-It's Anna Karenina gives us a taste of the novel, but not its heart
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Forbidden love - Book-It's Anna Karenina gives us a taste of the novel, but not its heart

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

ANNA KARENINA
BOOK-IT REPERTORY
Through March 3


We've had a spate of classic writers performed on our local stages lately, with A Doll's House (Ibsen), The Seagull (Chekhov), and now Book-It Repertory's production of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Book-It's production is an original adaptation by Kevin McKeon, who has a long history with the unique narrative style.

The production itself, helmed by veteran Book-It director Mary Machala, feels as well-balanced as usual, with a solid cast headed by Book-It veteran actors such as Emily Grogan as Anna, Andrew DeRycke as her husband, Karenin, and David Anthony Lewis as Levin, a man who aspires to accept peasants as equals. There are newcomers to Book-It, though recognizable from other local stages, such as Sara Mountjoy-Pepka as the young Kitty, and Scott Ward Abernethy as the notorious Count Vronsky.

The set design by Dan Schuy, including a large-tiled open floor and decorative columns, with silhouettes of Russian buildings scattered around the walls, is suitably flexible for many locations. The costumes (Jocelyne Fowler), lighting (Marnie Cummings), and sound, including many Russian folk songs sung by the actors (Johanna Melamed), support the period piece, and the choreography (Laura Ferri) of Russian dances enhances the story particularly in Act One.

A VICTIM OF HER TIME
For those who may have skipped the 900-page book, Anna Karenina is a young mother with a very dry, uninspiring, controlling husband, not unlike many women of her day. Her husband takes her for granted, and her life is circumscribed by society's strictures and limitations, any deviation from which would lead to her being ostracized. Everything is fine, if boring, until she meets the dashing Count Vronsky and is drawn into a torrid affair.

Having tasted the fruit of forbidden love, she is unable to live within the limits she formerly could accept and leaves even her young son behind to run away with her lover. But once free, she begins to feel that Vronsky is losing his love for her, whether that's real or imagined, and she becomes desperate to win him back. Tragedy envelops her.

A subplot involves her protégée Kitty, who fancies herself in love with Vronsky, also, until he dumps her for Anna. She finally realizes that the worthy Levin, who has been in love with her for years, is her correct match, allowing him a measure of happiness he had hoped for.

MISSING ELEMENTS
While the production has all the appropriate elements, something is missing, and the audience is not drawn in to the story well. Theater works best when audience members invest their feelings into the characters and are swept away by them. Here, there is a kind of distance in the performance - a veil between the story and the audience. Ultimately, it probably lies in the adaptation.

Difficulties surround creating a theatrical script hewing closely to such a sprawling novel, but it must be distilled and also include theatricality and immediacy. The first act establishes the characters well, though perhaps not quite as much of the trapped quality of Anna as might be needed to show how scandalous it is that she rebels. The second act does not make us care about her fall.

In a published article by McKeon in the program, he says that he doesn't like the character of Anna. He believes Tolstoy didn't like her either, and wanted her to represent the bad trends the novelist saw Russia embracing. The adaptation doesn't work to set her up as a symbol of Russian destruction, or even as unlikable. Grogan is a wonderfully likable actor, and perhaps that confusion is part of what pushes us away from caring about her downfall. Yet this does not help us root much for any other character, either. For more information, go to www.book-it.org or call (206) 216-0833.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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