Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Anna is the story of a married Russian aristocrat who travels to Moscow to help her philandering brother Stiva smooth things over with his pregnant wife Dolly. The handsome and wealthy Count Alexei Vronsky chances to see Anna at the train station and instantly falls in love. Anna spurns his advances, but her husband's indifference and Vronsky's persistence prove impossible to resist. In a parallel story, Stiva's old friend Levin proposes to Dolly's younger sister Kitty, but both despair when Kitty declines his proposal because she is hoping to marry the now smitten Count Vronsky.
Geffers keeps the narrative line relatively simple, maintaining the focus on her surprisingly relatable characters and their evolving relationships. Dialogue is cleverly interspersed with internal deliberation and narration that is spoken, whispered, and chanted by the ensemble. This technique keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and allows the audience to understand the complex and often convoluted motivations at play.
Thematically, Anna focuses on the special obligations and restrictions placed on women in Russian society. Anna, Dolly, and Kitty are each attempting to find fulfillment under an oppressive milieu, but even discussions about agriculture and the changing role of the peasant class are cunningly bent toward issues of women and power. Geffers makes it clear that these issues are as relevant now as they were in 1870s Russia, but the work is never didactic or heavy handed.
Colleen Corcoran is a bewitching Anna, making the proud heroine's struggle for love and independence achingly realistic. Andrew Carroll's Count Vronsky is equal parts Russian nobility, Jay Gatsby, and Mick Jagger. Carroll is instantly irresistible but ultimately as complex as Anna herself. Shamus Hunter McCarty is hilarious as both Stiva and Vronsky's cousin Princess Betsy, a casting that only works because McCarty's performance is so convincing. Amanda Schoonover is moving as longsuffering Dolly, and the scene where she rides the carriage to Vronsky's estate is spectacular. Carlo Campbell plays Anna's harsh and humorless husband with a quiet malice that is genuinely creepy.
Aaron Cromie's warm and vibrant set is styled like an outdoor encampment. Pillows, mats, rugs, and other small set pieces are moved about to indicate the rooms and fields where the story takes place. A jacket or tiara signals the entrance of a new character. The bodies of the actors themselves come together to make trains and carriages. The deceptively simple staging enhances the ensemble's vivid performances and the result is an exquisitely intimate production.
Brenna Geffers and her ensemble have done something extraordinary in successfully transforming Tolstoy's epic novel into an intimate theatrical experience. It is difficult to say how much this success is dependent upon the work of this particular cast, but I would certainly buy a ticket to the next production to find out.
Anna runs through April 16th, 2017, at The Latvian Society Theater, 531 North 7th Street, Philadelphia. For tickets go to www.egopo.org or call 267-273-1414.