Review: Anna Karenina (Lifeline Theatre)

| March 19, 2018

Ilse Zacharias as Anna Karenina and Aneisa Hicks as Dolly in Anna Karenina, Lifeline Theatre              


Anna Karenina
Adapted by Jessica Wright Buha
  from the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
thru April 8  |  tix: $20-$40  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Thought-provoking female-driven adaption


Eric Gerard, Ilse Zacharias, Aneisa Hicks, Dan Cobbler, Gay Glenn, Michael Reyes, Jason Pereira and Brandi Lee

Lifeline Theatre presents
Anna Karenina

Review by Lauren Whalen

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is perhaps best known for its inaugural lines: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Not only are those words deeply profound, they are also a fitting introduction to a sad and tragic story of a woman Eric Gerard as Vronsky and Ilse Zacharias as Anna Karenina in Anna Karenina, Lifeline Theatre, photo by Suzanne Plunkett  who follows her heart with tragic consequences. Anna Karenina has been adapted manytimes over the years for stage and screen, and Jessica Wright Buha’s world premiere adaptation for Lifeline effectively captures the beauty and the grimness of Tolstoy’s original novel. Like its source material, Lifeline’s Anna Karenina is devoid of a happy ending, but the journey is so lovely, one almost doesn’t care.

On the surface, Anna (Ilse Zacharias) has everything a woman in imperial Russia could want. She cherishes her little boy Seryohza (a puppet voiced and manipulated by the skillful Michele Stine). Her husband (Michael Reyes), while stiff and formal, provides well for her. If anything, Anna pities her brother Stiva (Dan Cobbler), whose love for another woman is throwing his family life into upheaval. On a visit to Stiva in Moscow, Anna meets the dashing Count Vronsky (Eric Gerard) and is forever changed. How much, exactly, will she sacrifice for his love?

Buha’s adaptation is thoughtful and sensitive, making Anna’s husband a not entirely unsympathetic individual. She also takes care with the subplot: the growing romance between Stiva’s sister-in-law Kitty (Brandi Lee) and depressed intellectual Levin (Dan Granata), who pines for her. Like Tolstoy, Buha is both respectful of Anna, a modern woman in a very old-fashioned era, and mindful that her actions deeply affect everyone around her. Though the first act drags a bit, director Amanda Link is equally mindful of each and every character, allowing them their very human quirks. Movement designer Kasey Foster does a wonderful job staging the ensemble cast, who suggest the fateful train using simple gestures and sounds, in such a way that foreshadows Anna’s future without overwhelming her present. Izumi Inaba’s costumes are intricate and stunning, and Eric Backus’ sound design and original score add to the play’s music box feel.

Ilse Zacharias as Anna Karenina and Aneisa Hicks as Dolly in Anna Karenina, Lifeline Theatre   Dan Granata as Levin and Brandi Lee as Kitty in Anna Karenina, Lifeline Theatre

Amid a strong ensemble, Stine gives the play’s most human performance – even more remarkable considering she’s mostly obscured by a puppet. Her portrayal of little Seryohza, whose faith in his mother never wavers even when she constantly leaves him, is sweet without being cloying, loving but not sugary, and very realistic. Reyes always does best with awkward characters, and his beleaguered husband garners empathy even when his actions are despicable. As Vronsky, Gerard is pure charm without the smarm – his love for Anna is sincere, even when he can’t handle her indecisiveness. And finally, Zacharias has the perfect face, voice and mannerisms for Anna, who wants to do the right thing and have the love of her life with her always. Lifeline hits it out of the park with Anna Karenina, giving voice and power to a woman who feels like she has none. Beautifully planned and executed, Anna Karenina recalls the not-too-distant past, where women had far less options, and strengthens the present resolve to make the future of women even less shackled.

Rating: ★★★½

Anna Karenina continues through April 8th at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 4pm.  Tickets are $40 (military, students and seniors: $20), and are available by phone (773-761-4477) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Eric Gerard as Vronsky and Ilse Zacharias as Anna Karenina in Anna Karenina at Lifeline Theatre, photo by Suzanne Plu  

Photos by Suzanne Plunkett




Ilse Zacharias (Anna), Dan Cobbler (Stiva, ensemble), Lindsey Dorcus (Betsy, ensemble), Eric Gerard (Vronsky), Gay Glenn (Countless Vronkaya, ensemble), Dan Granata (Levin, ensemble), Aneisa Hicks (Dolly, ensemble), Brandi Lee (Kitty, ensemble), Jason Pereira (Kapitonich, ensemble), Michael Reyes (Karenin, ensemble), Michele Stine (Seryohza, ensemble)

Understudies: Ashley Agbay, Diana Coates, Isabella Karina Coelho, Zoe DePreta, Blake Holen, Rachel Mock, Bruce Phillips, Roy Samra

behind the scenes

Amanda Link (director), Joanna Iwanicka (scenic design), Diane D. Fairchild (lighting design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Eric Backus (original music & sound design), Abigail Cain (properties design), Stephanie Diaz (puppet design), Kasey Foster (movement design), Zev Valancy (dramaturg), Colleen Schuldeis (stage manager), Emily Wills (assistant director), Savannah Clements (asst. stage manager), Jennifer McClendon (production manager), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume assistant), Maggie Armendariz, Alex Connor (scenic painters), Joe Schermoly (technical director), Collin Helou (master electrician, AV supervisor), Steve Labedz (asst. master electrician), Abhi Shrestha (carpenter), Billy Borst, Jessie Cole, Alex Little, Dan Parsons (electricians), Suzanne Plunkett (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Adaptation, Lauren Emily Whalen, Lifeline Theatre, Video, World Premier

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