ANNA KARENINA, Shattered Globe Theatre. Helen Edmundson's powerful adaptation of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss inspired Vitalist Theatre's current flawless staging. And she's distilled the same emotional essence from Tolstoy's sprawling epic in 160 minutes that blend dreamlike fluidity with pantomimed movement and expressionistic ensemble work. Giving equal emphasis to the novel's two plots, she anchors the action in sometimes forced exchanges between Anna and Levin. (Irritatingly, they initiate each other's stories by asking, "Where are you now?") But they are kindred souls who defy the mores of their era to find happiness: Anna forfeits respectability and family to love the feckless Vronsky, while Levin returns to the soil (and a radical program of agrarian reform), espousing a passionate antimaterialism.
Louis Contey's sturdy staging, the U.S. premiere of Edmundson's dramatization, wrings much anguish from her protofeminist portrait of a woman crushed between love and duty; Levin's less known, less melodramatic tale of self-reform effectively balances Anna's self-destruction. Rebecca Jordan's haunted Anna, literally pursued by a hooded Grim Reaper, never loses her dignity despite her desperation. Steve Key gives caddish Vronsky a painfully divided devotion, Brian Pudil is a stolid if driven Levin, Eric Fraisher Hayes coldly animates Anna's scandal-loathing husband, and Linda Reiter movingly represents a very wronged wife. Their acting is more convincing than Edmundson's occasionally leaden touches: she compares Vronsky's riding a mare to death to rape. Fortunately, the final train is not a metaphor.