'Anna' at EgoPo: Delightful, surprising two-hour stage version of Tolstoy

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(Left to right:) Andrew Carroll, Colleen Corcoran, Lee Minora, and Maria Konstantinidis in "Anna" at the EgoPo Classic Theater.

Astonishingly, against all odds, they did it. EgoPo’s gorgeous production of Anna manages to deliver Tolstoy’s magnificent 800-page novel Anna Karenina in only two hours, with only eight actors. Brenna Geffers has triumphantly adapted the book and directed the show -- and provided a surprise ending, to boot.

Instead of bogging down in slavish 19th-century realism, Geffers creates a world that is theatrical and exotic and fun, using Aaron Cromie’s opulent set design: layers of oriental carpets spread on mulch, cloth-draped tents, trees, strings of fairy lights. It’s both indoors and outdoors, the opera, St. Petersburg balls, Moscow offices, a country farm. The costumes (by Natalia de la Torre) are both glamorous and goofy, and the props (by Joe Wozniak) are ingenious.

The story centers on a beautiful woman, Anna (the superb Colleen Corcoran), trapped in a loveless marriage to stiff, boring Karenin (Carlo Campbell, the only member of this cast whose style -- bouncy walk, loud voice -- doesn’t suit his role or the production).  She meets the dashing, sexy, slightly silly Count Vronsky (played with divine panache by Andrew Carroll), and they fall madly, wildly, hopelessly in love.  Their seduction scene is sensational. They live together, and society being what it was, she is disgraced, a “fallen woman.” To her horror and disgust, she discovers how disgrace can erode happiness.

Another family -- unhappy in its own way -- is Dolly (Amanda Schoonover, who manages to create a charming, long-suffering plain Jane), her husband (Shamus Hunter McCarthy, whose Princess Betsy is just beyond anything), and Dolly’s young disillusioned sister Kitty (Maria Konstantinidis), who finally marries Levin (Arlen Hancock).  Our narrator/commentator, a kind of Greek chorus (the excellent and very malleable Lee Minora), keeps us apprised of events: “Then in the spring ...”

The novel is an investigation of love, the possibility of happy families, the likelihood of unhappy families, the decadence of the aristocracy and tsarist politics, agricultural progress,  and the injustices done to women (as Anna gasps, “I can’t breathe -- the air is full of his permission”). And, well, much, much else.

As somebody once said, “If life could write, it would write like Tolstoy.”  So it’s altogether remarkable that Geffers managed to stuff all this so enjoyably into a short time and onto a small stage.


Anna. Through April 16 at EgoPo Theater Company, The Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th St. Tickets: $25-$32. Information: 267-273-1414, egopo.org.

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