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Review: DCPA’s Anna Karenina brings Tolstoy to life

From left to right: James Shanklin, Kate MacCluggage, and Anastasia Davidson in Anna Karenina.
Photo courtesy of Adam Lundeen for DCPA

Play emphasizes timeless themes in centuries-old story

Anna Karenina, the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy, is a complex tale of love, lust, jealousy, and death that is both beautiful and tragically haunting. The story is set in Russia in 1873 and centers around a diverse cast of characters, including the Countess Anna Karenina, whom the novel is named after; Count Vronsky, the man Anna has an affair with; and Kostya Levin, a landowner who champions rights for his workers, and is in love with the woman Count Vronsky is supposed to wed.

Anna Karenina is currently being performed as a stage adaptation at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts until Feb. 24. Most of the showings have been sold out, and it is not difficult to understand why.

Though Anna Karenina is set in a time and place far distant from modern day America, it is no less relevant. The story’s timeless themes remain easy to relate to today, and the flawless acting that delivers them pulls the watcher right in.

Kate MacCluggage plays Anna Karenina, and her performance is nothing short of breathtaking. MacCluggage is a NYU graduate, and aside from appearing on Broadway and numerous other theater productions, she also appeared in Law & Order: SVU.

Kostya Levin is played by Kyle Cameron. Like MacCluggage, Cameron also graduated from NYU. He has performed at the Sydney Opera House in Australia and appeared in an episode of Orange is the New Black. Count Vronsky is played by Patrick Zeller, yet another astounding actor with a boastful list of theater accolades, as well as appearances in Law & Order and The Young and the Restless.

These stunningly talented leads are supported by a vast cast of equally talented actors and actresses. The acting alone is enough to make one forget they are at a theater watching a play and instead transport audiences to 1873 Russia.

The performance lasts about two-and-a-half hours. The set is simplistic yet adequate; whereas some shows have complex backdrops that change in nearly every scene, the backdrop here remains the same, and instead large props come onto stage, either from left or right or directly up through the floor. These props include a bed, metal stairs leading to an imagined train platform, rows of benches, and more.

Additionally, the show utilizes a unique form of narration that involves extra characters narrating the inner thoughts of the leads. This narration is especially heavy in the first 10 minutes, where it serves to “set the scene” for the story that is to come. At first, this technique feels intrusive, but as the show progresses and its uses become more and more sparse, it becomes normal and one hardly notices it as out of the ordinary.

Anna Karenina is an excellent show that is more than worth the time and money to see. The ending is haunting, and cause for more than a few tears. With themes that everyone can relate to, as well as near-perfect acting, it is a performance that does not fade quickly from memory.

Other upcoming shows at the DCPA include The Whistleblower, which plays until March 10, and Xanadu, which stretches all the way until April 28.


Denver Center for
the Performing Arts

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