EgoPo Classic Theater presents the world premiere of Anna as the final work in its Russian Masters Festival. Anna adapts the story of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with lots of humor and physicality. The cast of actors is splendid and the set dazzles with its realism. A very long narrative is condensed into about 105 minutes of laughs, bursts of emotion and colorful portrayals. Anna was created by Brenna Geffers and the Anna ensemble; Geffers also directed it.
The finely detailed set, designed by Aaron Cromie, is reminiscent of a Bohemian camp in the forest. It contains tents, clothes trunks, chairs, oriental rugs, and many day to day artifacts. Some are used as props, like the suitcases, a Russian music box, a guitar and champagne glasses. The ground under the rugs is gravelly with wood chips and there are tree trunks and branches attached to the floor, walls and ceiling. The audience enters through the “camp” as it stretches from the edge of the seating all the way to the other two walls, encasing the entrance.
Costumes and makeup by Natalia de la Torre were noteworthy and fitting to the actors, some of whom played more than one role. Their wardrobe seemed to reflect a 1970s retro-fashion with bell bottomed pants and mini- and maxi-dresses. There was a certain kitsch about it, and touches of Russian and gypsy flair. The makeup and dress for Anna’s lover Vronsky was over the top and completely appropriate for the character.
The ensemble is comprised mostly of EgoPo veterans. They demonstrate considerable skill in establishing characters and telling the story. The play goes back and forth constantly between dialogue and narration, with different actors remaining in character or stepping out of it to describe stage directions, what is happening, or how a character feels. Sometimes male actors play women and female actors play men. A quick addition of an accessory, such as a scarf, coat or sparkly headband, facilitates the change. All of this occurs smoothly as each member of the ensemble transitions effortlessly from narrator to character and back again.
As Anna Karenina, Colleen Corcoran commands the stage. She is an irresistible woman who initially captivates everyone she meets. Her husband, Alexey Karenin, is depicted particularly well by Carlo Campbell. The pedantry of his words is delivered with almost deadpan indifference in some instances, yet there are times when he unexpectedly breaks from his social straitjacket and releases his emotions. I loved the characterization of Stepan (Anna’s philandering brother) by Shamus Hunter McCarty and Vronsky by Andrew Carroll. The ensemble cast also includes Arlen Hancock, Maria Konstantinidis, Lee Minora and Amanda Schoonover, all excellent actors.
The action is quickly paced, demanding the audience’s attention and engagement. The play energetically weaves narration and dialogue together, punctuated with music and supported by dance and other movement. There is only a guitar and the actors’ voices, but they are deftly used and add ambiance and mood. There are no set changes — the premise is a troop of actors performing Anna Karenina, all making do with what’s available in their camp.
To bring this novel to life with such humor and realism onstage is a tremendous feat. The interplay between conversation, storytelling and choreography is ingenious and is accompanied by superior direction and a nimble and expert cast. Congrats to EgoPo, and all involved in this production, for mounting this entertaining and innovative piece!
Running time: Two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Anna plays through April 16, 2017, at EgoPo Classic Theater, performing at The Latvian Society Theater — 531 North 7th Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (267) 273-1414, or purchase them online.