by Beki Pineda
ANNA KARENINA – Written by Kevin McKeon from the novel by Leo Tolstoy; Directed by Chris Coleman. Produced by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company (The STAGE Theatre, 14th Curtis, Denver) through February 24. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
I’m always interested in connections. How do people find each other? In the case of casting this beautiful and brilliant production, how did Kate MacCluggage find herself cast in the iconic role of Anna? It may have started when she took a major role in Portland Center Stage’s production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST several years ago when ANNA director Chris Coleman was Artistic Director there. A beauty and talent such as hers would be hard to forget when it came time to cast Anna. Most of the other newcomers to the Denver Center – Allison Altman as Kitty, Kyle Cameron as Levin, James Shanklin as Karenin, and the handsome Patrick Zeller as Count Vronsky – all have a mostly East Coast career and came through the casting director Harriet Bass, who helped Mr. Coleman cast his original production in Portland. Gareth Saxe who has built a career on Broadway (as Scar in THE LION KING) also has Colorado roots through several years at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and appearing in the all-male MACBETH at the Denver Center last season. The remainder of the cast are all from Denver’s amazing acting pool and more than hold their own on the stage with these theatre gypsies.
This is a stunning production whose script reduces the 1000 page Tolstoy book to a succinct and comprehensive visual presentation with a combination of narrative and dialogue. The ensemble members are allowed to set the stage and move the evening forward by giving background, history, and story line through narrative lines while permitting the main characters to stay in character and not break the fourth wall. As a result, most of the three main stories get told. Society weighs heavily on the love story of the married Anna and the handsome Count Vronsky who sweeps her off her feet. The tremulous tale of Levin and Kitty is the second and the turbulent relationship of Stevi and his wife, Dolly, make up the third. Mother Russia with all her turmoil, politics, social mores, morality and history is a character all unto herself, playing an important role in the overall production.
The technical aspects of the show make it a feast for the eyes and ears. Mr. Coleman has been able to utilize some of the talented people he worked with in Portland to enhance this production as well. Tony Cisek designed the simple but versatile set with its tall Grecian columns, painted floor, and drop in and out furniture. Jeff Cone designed the amazing costumes which delineated the class system in St. Petersburg through color and line. A special shout-out to the six backstage dressers who assisted with some of the fastest changes seen recently. A noblewoman character would say her lines, gracefully and slowly exit, and re-enter as a peasant woman less than a minute later. Matthew Nielson created the sound design that allowed us to enjoy the original music that Randall Robert Tico created for this and the Portland production. This amalgamation of talent which includes Diane Williams’ spectacular lighting design which gave clarity and drama to the stage pictures combine to benefit ANNA theatre attendees.
We all know the story of the fateful love affair in its simplest terms – girl meets count, trouble ensues – having either read the book or the Cliff Notes for a World Literature class. Or seen one of the 13 movies, 3 mini-series, 9 operas, or 4 ballets which have previously told the story. But this script allows the nobility and humanity of the characters to emerge. Anna did not enter into this relationship lightly; it was torment for her in the beginning and a different sort of torment in the end. Vronsky wanted the easy love to go on forever and when the day to day maintenance of the relationship changed, he floundered on the rocky shore of normalcy. Karenin could have been portrayed as a stuffy old man who allowed himself to be cuckolded. Instead we get a thoughtful man aware of the age difference between his young wife and himself who needed only discretion in order to remain aloof to what was happening around him. When the time came, he put his hand out in forgiveness, only to be shamed again. The minor characters too become alive and invested in their characters and the decisions these characters make – right or wrong. We root for them all to achieve their own personal peace in the world, knowing that for some, it will not happen.
A touching and fulfilling theatre evening. It will be a long time before you see a show so completely beautiful as this. Mr. Coleman is making his mark on Denver theatre already. PS: for recognizing the talent we have right here in Denver and using them to great advantage in your productions.
A WOW factor of 9!