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Theater Review: Anna Karenina


Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina” is a sweeping epic – and so is Capital Stage’s theatrical adaptation. Seeing this play is an immersive experience, We are right there at the train station for this happy reunion between the of the main characters.

Stiva: Anna!
Anna: Stiva!
Stiva: Anna, oh you look beautiful..
Anna: You, you look….
Stiva: Fat. Is that the word you’re looking for?
Anna: Well…
Stiva: Oh yes, Too much good beef!
Anna: And wine, and oysters.
Stiva: And champagne. And that was breakfast.

The sound of the train and the description of the sinfully extravagant meal, instantly transport us into the heady experience of the upper class in Czarist Russia.

Of course, the indulgence doesn’t stop at the breakfast table as we hear in this exchange between Anna’s brother, Stiva and his wife.

Dolly: Do you think we can go on living this? Do you think it’s possible when my husband, the father of my children, has an affair with my children’s governess?
Stiva: But darling. What can I do?
Dolly: You are disgusting! Your tears are water! You never loved me. I hate you!

Czarist Russian Society excused a man who had affairs. But a woman having an affair risked complete disgrace, and that dilemma is central to this famous tale.

Tolstoy’s novel is told over 800 pages, and this production lasts nearly three hours. But it never flags, thanks to creative and arrestingly staged vignettes like this visit to a racetrack:

“But now she’s coming through. She’s passed one, two, three, four, or the other horses, two ahead. Gladiator’s going like the wind…”

It’s a breathtaking scene, and there are other equally vivid moments, including a joyous wedding; and a dire scene of a young man dying from tuberculosis.

Director Stephanie Gularte coordinates this cavalcade marvelously, using all manner of sound cues, lighting effects and repeating motifs to drive the story home. And despite its length, this wonderful production goes by in a flash. It’s so compelling it literally turns your head.