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Why Go on Living?: Anna Karenina at BAM

by Christopher Atamian

Nancy Meckler and Shared Experienece's production of Anna Karenina at the Brooklyn Academy of Music does a credible job of adapting Lev Tolstoy's classic novel to the stage. A gargantuan task under any scenario, writer Helen Edmundson manages to cull key scenes from the novel and render them in fast-paced, well-wrought dialogue. Occasional movements inspired by modern choreography and the clever use of minimal props such as chairs, bring visual excitement to an otherwise bare stage.

Teresa Banham plays a sexually vibrant Anna Karenina, full of life and wanting nothing more than the freedom to live life as she wants to, and to be with her true love and passion, Bronsky. Her dutiful and convention bound husband will never grant her the divorce she so much desires and thus permit her to regain a place in Russian Society after her shocking affair with Bronsky. Anna is part Emma Bovary part Hester Prynne.

In the backdrop of this central story, Levin leads a life on the land far from Petersburg and Moscow and tries to reorganize his workers and pay them wages, while hoping against all hope the object of his unrequited affections Kitty (Pooky Quemnel), who is also in love with Bronsky, will one day return his affection.

Act I is well-paced, exciting and offers much promise, but the second act feels too rushed, as if Edmundson tried to fit too many episodes of the novel into her adaptation. In the end, Levin and Kitty provide the only uplifting note to a story fraught with anguish, dashed love and despair. "Why go on living" is the story's motto and this play's answer may well be because there's nothing else we can do until Anna Karenina's terrible, tragic ending.

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