An opening disclaimer: I am a complete rookie with the Book-it Style literature as theater. To be honest, I imagined I was about to see a group of actors sitting on stage, reading different sections of the novel to the audience. I found the novelty of the format quite innovative and entertaining. The Book-it Style offers dialogue from the original text spoken by actors assuming specific roles and then divvies the third person omniscient narrative out to any of the cast who happens to be on stage at the time. The narrative sections and dialogue shuffle back and forth, offering a smooth presentation of a variety of passages from the novel.
Kevin McKeon adapted Anna Karenina for this production in what must have been a monumental task; how does one pare down a nine hundred-page tome for a two and a half hour show?
McKeon succeeds in bringing a good deal of both Anna and Levin’s story into the production. The pace is swift; in Act One, flirtations, trysts, disputes and reconciliations occur at a dizzying pace.
Emily Grogan hits a number of true notes as Anna; her finest moments occur when she is fruitlessly trying to negotiate her lifeless marriage with her older husband played by Andrew DeRycke. Grogan captures both the turmoil and frustration that traps the unhappy young wife. When she observes, “My happiness was never anyone’s concern,” the words ring very true.
David Anthony Lewis brings a palpable warmth and vigor to the role of Levin, a man continually searching for an honest moral path in a very murky world. Sara Mountjoy-Pepka was quite touching as the vulnerable, young Kitty, carefully trying to negotiate the ins and outs of Moscow’s social scene. Her work was sharply focused throughout.
If the show seems to lag a bit in Act Two, I think perhaps the basic format may be to blame; for in the end, we are dealing with a long, long novel and not a traditionally structured play. A novel, particularly this one, may linger and explore chosen moments at its leisure, while a play must simply get on with it. Anna’s final moments, while very moving, seemed to lack the punch of a traditional play’s climax. Perhaps McKeon would have had to been less faithful to the text to bring more urgent life to the stage.
Jocelyne Fowler is responsible for the gorgeous 19thcentury costumes; Laura Ferri enlivens Act One with a well-designed ballroom dance sequence. Anna Karenina is directed by Mary Machala; Dan Schuy—Scenic Designer, Marnie Cumming- Lighting; Johanna Melamed -Sound. The show runs through March 3 at the Book-It Repertory Theater in the Seattle Center. For tickets 206-216-0833 or www.book-it.org.