Anna Karenina Review – Tolstoy’s Tale Revisited

Garrett Botts and Eva Abramian in ANNA KARENINA - Photo by Larry Sandez
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Adapted by British playwright Helen Edmundson from the novel by Leo Tolstoy, ANNA KARENINA again lives in the classic tale of love, adultery, and death. First presented on the stage in 1992, ANNA KARENINA went on the win the TimeOut Award for Outstanding Theatrical Event of 1992. The play was revived in London in 2011 but is only rarely produced.

The Cast of ANNA KARENINA – Photo by Larry Sandez

Seen through two pairs of eyes, the Russian landscape – complete with every societal and legal no-no of the time – is meticulously brought to life. In Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina (Eva Abramian) and Konstantin Levin (Joseph Barone) meet only once – but their stories appear to be reflections, one to the other, of their experiences in the rigid Russian winter. For both are having a crisis of faith as they struggle to find their place in this frigid setting.

Ivy Beech and Joseph Barone – Photo by Larry Sandez

Anna is married to the punctilious provincial governor, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (Bruce Ladd), but she is not happy with her life. Until, that is, she meets the dashing officer Count Alexei Vronsky (Garrett Botts) – and all her romantic dreams come true. Unfortunately for Anna, her unleashed passions are not an acceptable part of her role as the wife of the staid Karenin, who must retain his reputation at all costs. An unexpected pregnancy can hardly enhance the situation. Meanwhile, Levin has his own woes. Madly in love with Kitty (Ivy Beech) – but summarily rejected by her in favor of the charming Vronsky – Levin must face reality and learn to live with it. Both Anna and Levin are craving something that each can never have.

Joseph Barone and Eva Abramian – Photo by Larry Sandez

When Anna throws caution to the winds and runs off with Vronsky, things can only get worse. Society’s condemnation of Anna, however, is not matched by their treatment of Vronsky. Triggered by their acceptance of her lover, Anna feels a divide growing between them which can only lead to her fury and jealousy. As she becomes more and more despondent, things are not looking good for the couple. Gender bias was never so carefully wrought as in Tolstoy’s doomed Anna. To add salt to the situation, Anna’s philandering brother (Michael Worden) is fully accepted even when he cavorts with both wife and mistress. Happily, like Anna’s brother, Levin is on the acceptable side of the gender gap – so the culmination of his longing may turn out differently.

Ivy Beech and Garret Botts – Photo by Larry Sandez

ANNA KARENINA is a long play in keeping with Tolstoy’s novel, whose length might be evaluated by pounds rather than pages. The intricacies of life, love, and death in Anna’s Russia are carefully delineated in a soap opera for the era. In keeping with a more modern time, symbolism is key to this production of the star-crossed lovers. Thus, dancing figures and marching hordes intermittently encircle the principals as they journey through life. Initially, the seductive Anna wears a gown far skimpier than her peers, but her wardrobe lengthens after she gives birth and pursues her downfall. Director Heather Chesley has her hands full with this massive and often convoluted story. The ensemble cast does its best to keep the characters straight and the story trackable. Perhaps the intrinsic difficulties in bringing Tolstoy to the stage have something to do with the limited number of ANNA KARENINA productions. In any case, the current presentation is a noble effort to let the audience share in Tolstoy’s bounty. As such, it is well worth an evening in the theater.

Eva Abramian (center) and Cast – Photo by Larry Sandez

ANNA KARENINA runs through March 17, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 2:30 p.m. (2/16 and 2/23 and 3/2 and 3/16) and 8 p.m. on Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Actors Co-op Company is presenting at the Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower Street, Los Angeles, CA. Tickets are $35 ($30, seniors; $25 students; group rates available). For information and reservations, call 323-462-8460 or go online.

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