Anna Karenina

Feb 16 – Apr 8, 2018
Thu & Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 4pm & 8pm, Sun at 4pm

“★★★ Lifeline pulls it off… The show’s great strength is the world-premiere adaptation, by Jessica Wright Buha… It’s an impressive feat — and it makes this production an ideal introduction to Tolstoy, indeed to romantic Russian realism, for a young person, long a strength at Lifeline.”  –Chicago Tribune

“Jessica Wright Buha’s new, streamlined adaptation captures the heart of the novel without the benefit of a large, opulent production. Furthered by compelling direction from Amanda Link and a young, vital cast, this Anna Karenina is as tragic as it is romantic.”  –Theater Mania

“Creatively designed and beautifully acted, Buha’s adaptation offers an accessible and intriguing pathway into Leo Tolstoy’s classic.”  –Picture this Post

As a wave of profound upheaval sweeps through Russian society, it is a time of impossible choices. Anna is torn between raising her cherished son and languishing in a lifeless marriage, or sacrificing everything to follow her lover Alexei into disgrace. Konstantin struggles to reconcile his existential torment with his enduring passion for Kitty. Innocents will suffer, hearts will be broken, and families will be torn apart as two couples learn that living truthfully is no simple thing. A world premiere meditation on the complexities of love based on the 1877 novel by Leo Tolstoy.

A world premiere based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy 
Adapted by Jessica Wright Buha 
Directed by Amanda Link

Special Performances
Audio Description and Touch Tour
Sunday, March 11
   Touch tour: 2:30pm
   Performance: 4pm

Open Captioning
Saturday, March 10 at 4pm
Friday, March 23 at 7:30pm

Visit our Accessibility page for more information.

Highlights from Anna Karenina. Music by Eric Backus. 

  • Dan Cobbler (Stiva & ensemble)

    Dan is proud to be black at Lifeline Theatre in 2018 and that is not a typo. He was last seen desperately trying to kill Shakespeare in Her Majesty’s Will. Other dope shows have included: Cymbeline (Strawdog Theater Company), 100 Hauntings (Free Street Theater), Julius Caesar(Brown Paper Box Co), Fugue for a Particle Accelerator (20% Theater), Two Gentlemen of Verona (Oak Park Festival Theater). Dan has taught and performed in diverse arts educational programs with MPAACT, Teatro Vista and Valparaiso University. Dan holds puppies, grudges and an M.F.A. from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

  • Lindsey Dorcus (Betsy & ensemble)

    Lindsey is excited to work with Lifeline again after understudying in The Three Musketeers. She recently appeared as Rosalind Franklin in 20% Theatre’s production of Photograph 51 and you can often catch her in Barrel of Monkeys’ weekly revue, That’s Weird, Grandma. Other local credits include work with Filament Theatre (The Van Gogh CafeCyranoThe Monster in the Hall, and many others); The House (Diamond DogsThe Magnificents); Strawdog; Manual Cinema; The Building Stage; and many others. She is a proud Company Member with both Barrel of Monkeys and Filament Theatre.

  • Eric Gerard (Vronsky)

    Eric is grateful to be working with Lifeline for the first time! Other Chicago credits include Akeelah and the Bee (Adventure Stage Chicago), King Liz (Windy City Playhouse), Octagon (Jackalope), My Mañana Comes(Teatro Vista), The Paranoid Style in American Politics (First Floor Theater), and The Royale (American Theatre Co.) Eric is an Instructor, and proud graduate of THE ACADEMY, at BlackBox Acting. He is represented by Hayes Talent.

  • Gay Glenn (Countess Vronskaya & ensemble)

    Gay is honored to be working for the first time with Lifeline Theatre. She was last seen as Madam in Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet… with Organic Theatre. She has performed for professional theatre companies in Minnesota (Penumbra, Ordway Center for Performing Arts, Pillsbury House); Missouri (Imaginary Theatre Company – part of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis); and Illinois (The Artistic Home, Chicago Shakes, The Hypocrites, ETA Creative Arts, and Fleetwood Jourdain, among others). She holds an M.F.A. from Chicago College of Performing Arts and thanks Lifeline for yet another opportunity to grow.

  • Dan Granata (Levin & ensemble)

    Dan is happy to once again be wintering at Lifeline, where he previously appeared in One Came HomeA Tale of Two CitiesHungerMrs. Caliban, and Neverwhere. Work elsewhere in Chicago has included ArcadiaThe Man Who Was Thursday, and Touch (New Leaf Theatre); The Master & Margarita (Strawdog Theatre); Becky Shaw (A Red Orchid Theatre); Under Milk Wood (Caffeine Theatre); Laughter on the 23rd Floor (Raven Theatre); and The League of Awesome (Factory Theater).

  • Aneisa Hicks (Dolly & ensemble)

    Aneisa is so excited about making her debut at Lifeline! Her most recent past credits include The House That Will Not Stand (Victory Gardens Theatre), The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil (Babes with Blades Theatre Company), The End of TV (Manual Cinema), and In To America (Griffin Theatre). Aneisa received her M.F.A. in Acting at the University of Iowa and is represented by Shirley Hamilton Talent.

  • Brandi Lee (Kitty & ensemble)

    Brandi is a theater graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a concentration in acting. Other recent credits include Akeelah and The Bee(Adventure Stage), Thumbelina (Lifeline Theatre), and the collaboration with DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology) on the devised piece, Terminal One. Brandi is a teaching artist all over the city and has worked with numerous organizations including FYI (For Youth Inquiry), Story Catchers, and Lifeline Theatre. She is currently the Education Associate/Internship Coordinator at the Goodman Theatre.

  • Jason Pereira (Kapitonich & ensemble)

    Jason is very happy to be making his Lifeline debut in this production. He was most recently seen in Six Characters in Search of an Author with Ghostlight Ensemble Theatre. Other credits include Jamie in Karaoke Night (Coffee & Whiskey Productions), Check Mates and Saganaki Serenade (Painted Pistachios Production, NYC). He recieved his Associates Degree with a focus on theatre at Harper College and studied at Black Box Studio.

  • Michael Reyes (Karenin & ensemble)

    Michael is very happy to return to Lifeline, having appeared as Stamford/Reginald in Miss Holmes. Other credits: Gary in Night Seasonand Cornelius/Philario in Cymbeline (Strawdog); Turv in Captain Steve’s Caring Kingdom and Neville in Born Ready (Factory); Nick in Mutt (Stage Left); Sebastian in Animals Commit Suicide (First Floor); and more. He’s also played with other great companies, here and gone, including Theo Ubique, Chicago Opera Vanguard, Promethean Theatre Ensemble, Muse of Fire, About Face, Backstage, 20 Percent, Next, Organic/Touchstone. Much gratitude to Amanda for this opportunity – and many thanks to you for coming out to see us!

  • Michele Stine (Seryohza & ensemble)

    Michele is very excited to be making her Lifeline Theatre debut. Other Chicago credits include: Jill in Mother Goose’s Garden (Emerald City Theatre); Martha Washington in The American Revolution (Theatre Unspeakable); Chorus in Little Red Cyrano (Red Theatre Chicago); Karen Trout in Crime Scene: The Next Chapter (Collaboraction). Regional credits include: Snout in The Magical Mind of Billy Shakespeare (Illinois Shakespeare Festival). Michele received a B.S. in Acting and Political Science from Illinois State University. She is an ensemble member with Theatre Unspeakable

  • Ilse Zacharias (Anna)

    Ilse makes her Lifeline Theatre debut. Chicago credits include: Nayeli in Into the Beautiful North (16th Street Theater); Miranda (u/s) in The Wolf at the End of the Block(Teatro Vista); Lisa/Becky/Debbie in The Heidi Chronicles (Cuckoo’s Theater Project); Petruchio (u/s) in Shrewish(Artemisia). She has also worked with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Court Theater, Something Marvelous, Cold Basement Dramatics, and The Bridge Theatre. Television credits include The Exorcist on FOX. Ilse received her B.F.A. in Acting from Roosevelt University and is proudly represented by Actors Talent. Future projects include The Madres at Victory Gardens produced by Teatro Vista.

  • Ashley Agbay (Understudy)

    Ashley is very excited to be working with Lifeline Theatre for the first time as a part of Anna Karenina. Most recently, she appeared in Our Town(Redtwist Theatre) and the world premiere of Mona Mansour’s Unseen(The Gift Theatre). Other Chicago credits include Fefu and Her Friends(Halcyon Theatre), At the Center (The Agency), and Collaboraction’s final Sketchbook Festival. Originally from Massachusetts, Ashley is a proud graduate of Boston University.

  • Diana Coates (Understudy)

    Diana last worked with Lifeline on The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! and was most recently seen in Griffin Theatre’s touring production of Letters Home. Other Chicago credits: The House That Will Not Stand (Victory Gardens); Winter’s Tale (First Folio); Henry VTitus Andronicus, and Julius Caesar (BWBTC); Commons of Pensacola (Northlight); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Piccolo); Much Ado About Nothing (Rasaka). Regional credits: Blues for An Alabama Sky (African Continuum, DC); Harlem 9/11(Arc Theatre, DC). Film/TV: Game DayChicago Fire. She is represented by Shirley Hamilton Talent.

  • Isabella Karina Coelho (Understudy)

    Isabella is thrilled to make her Lifeline Theatre debut! Select recent Chicago credits include: Coriolanus (Commission Theatre), Crossing 6 Corners (Filament Theatre), Lecherous Honey (Cock and Bull Theatre), The Good Person of Szechwan (Cor Theatre), A Charlie Brown Christmas(The Broadway Playhouse), Aesop’s Fables (Raven Theatre), The B.F.G.and Elephant and Piggie: We are in a Play (The Apollo Theatre.) Isabella has been a Staff Artist at Free Street Theater since 2013, and is a proud graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University.

  • Zoë DePreta (Understudy)

    Zoë is thrilled to be working on her first show at Lifeline Theatre! Other Chicago credits include: Edith in May Day (Rhinofest 2018); Anna in An Alien Encounter (Paragon Theatre Festival), and served as a co-adaptor for Love In A Maze (Director’s Haven 2016 and Rhinofest 2017). Zoë received her B.A. in Theater and Creative Writing from Oberlin College.

  • Blake Holen (Understudy)

    Blake is incredibly excited to be working with Lifeline on Anna Karenina. Reasons include his interest in Russian literature and his love of Rogers Park. Other Chicagoland credits include Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play and Robert Livingston of New York in 1776. Blake is a graduate of Hastings College in Hastings, NE, and is a lifelong Cornhusker fan.

  • Rachel Mock (Understudy)

    Rachel is thrilled to be working with Lifeline Theatre for the first time! Rachel moved to Chicago two years ago after completing her M.F.A. at Ohio University. Her work in Chicago includes: Tight End (Darla) with 20% Theatre, and Henry V (Mountjoy/Nim/Michael Williams understudy) with Babes with Blades. Out of town favorites include: Brighton Beach Memoirs(Kate), Metamorphoses (various), Lysistrata (Lysistrata), An Enemy of the People (Catherine), Cinderella Waltz (Reagan), Necessary Targets (Zlata), reasons to be pretty (Steph), as well as two years (and fourteen shows!) touring with the Columbus Children’s Theatre. See more at

  • Bruce Phillips (Understudy)

    Bruce is an actor and improviser in Chicago. He is an ensemble member of ComedySportz Chicago and has performed at the Annoyance Theatre in Trigger Happy (directed by Mick Napier), The Boy Scout MusicalBurlesque is More, and My So Called After-Life. He is a performer and executive director of Hitch*Cocktails (named Best Improv Troupe in Chicago by the Chicago Reader) and performs in Clued In – The Improvised Murder Mystery. In addition, Bruce directs and performs with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and performed in the Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray aboard the largest cruise ship in the world. Bruce is a Non-Equity Jeff Award winner for Artistic Specialization for his work designing the robots in Heddatron at the Steppenwolf Garage in 2011 for Sideshow Theatre Company, where he is an artistic associate and former staff member.

  • Roy Samra (Understudy)

    Roy is beyond excited to be making his debut with Lifeline Theatre. Some of his favorite Chicago credits include: Barney the Elf (Other Theatre); The Civility of Albert CashierPriscilla: Queen of the Desert (Pride Films & Plays); SeussicalHairsprayPeter PanA Little Princess (Windy City Performs); and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Polarity Ensemble Theatre). You can also catch him in Lifeline’s upcoming production of Neverwhere. Roy is a proud Oklahoma City University graduate with a B.F.A. in Acting.

  • Jessica Wright Buha (Adaptor)

    A proud member of Lifeline’s artistic ensemble, Jessica’s previous adaptions include Lyle Finds His MotherOne Came HomeSparky!, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Locally, her writings have been performed by the Goodman Theatre (The Things Above, New Play Bake-Off 2014), Filament Theatre Ensemble (Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Portage Park), WildClaw Theatre (Alabama Mermaid, winner, Deathscribe 2011), and the Plagiarists (War SongUlyssesCircle House). Internationally, her adaptation of Sparky! was produced by the National Children’s Theatre, Johannesburg, in December 2017. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, and the mother of a wonderful son.

  • Amanda Link (Director)

    Amanda joined the Lifeline ensemble in 2013. She directed Sparky!The Velveteen Rabbit, and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! and has appeared in Click, Clack, Boo! A Tricky TreatDuck For PresidentHow To Survive A Fairy TaleDooby Dooby Moo; and Half Magic. She also writes and performs with the Lifeline Storytelling Project. She choreographed and assistant directed The Emperor’s New Threads, assistant directed and did movement design for The City & The City, and assistant directed One Came Home and Pride and Prejudice. Other credits include work with Factory Theater, Griffin Theatre, and The Mill.

  • Colleen Schuldeis (Stage Manager)

    Colleen is excited to be stage managing this adaptation of Anna Karenina. A graduate of Kalamazoo College, Colleen has spent the last two years apprenticing at The Purple Rose Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Past stage management credits include HellcabHirMonsterThe FundamentalsRomeo and JulietMornings at SevenThe Odd Couple, and Cloud 9. She would like to thank her parents, mentors, friends, and fellow company members.

  • Eric Backus (Original Music/Sound Designer)

    is excited to return to Lifeline after working on Arnie the DoughnutA Wrinkle In Time (Non-Equity Jeff Award Nomination), and Northanger Abbey. Recent sound design and composition credits include Yerma(Theatre Y), Becky Shaw (Windy City Playhouse), Beauty’s Daughter(American Blues Theater), The Wolf at the End of the Block (Teatro Vista), and The Assembled Parties (Raven Theatre). Eric also designed the Off-Broadway and touring productions of SoloChicago Theatre’s Churchill, and the Chicago and LA productions of Thrones! A Musical Parody. To hear more of his music, please visit

  • Abigail Cain (Properties Designer)

    Abigail is very excited to be making her Lifeline debut. She is a freelance prop master/designer and prop artisan. Abigail’s Chicago credits include A Hedda Gabbler (Red Tape Theatre), American Hwangap (A-Squared/Halcyon), The Nether (A Red Orchid Theatre), Picnic (American Theatre Company), and Great Expectations (Silk Road Rising/Remy Bumppo). This summer, she was the Prop Master at The Cape Playhouse for their 2017 season. Abigail is a graduate of Viterbo University where she earned a B.F.A. in Theatre.

  • Savannah Clements (Assistant Stage Manager)

    Savannah is delighted to make her Lifeline debut! A recent Theatre Design graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Savannah has stage managed numerous productions at both UIC and Wheaton College. She has also stage managed at Muse of Fire for two consecutive seasons, and more recently stage managed Par for the Corpse as well as It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at Oil Lamp Theater. Upcoming credits include a return to Oil Lamp to stage manage Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Special thanks to Colleen Schuldeis and Jennifer McClendon. Savannah is so grateful for the love and support of her friends and family.

  • Stephanie Díaz (Puppet Designer)

    Stephanie last designed puppets for Lifeline’s Thumbelina. Other recent credits include The Life of Galileo at Remy Bumppo and The Long Christmas Ride Home at Strawdog (Non-Equity Jeff Nomination), as well as puppets for Lookingglass, Cock and Bull, and A Red Orchid, among others. Her critically-acclaimed full-length piece, Mariposa Nocturna: A Puppet Triptych, opened the 2015 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, enjoyed two successful runs at 16th Street Theater, and was part of the 2017 Chicago International Physical Festival. She is a founding member of The Chicago Inclusion Project and a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association.

  • Diane D. Fairchild (Lighting Designer)

    Diane is a Chicago-based freelance lighting designer. Recent area credits include work with Theatre Wit, Mudlark Theatre, Raven Theater, and Wilmette Parks District. Diane recently became a proud ensemble member of Lifeline, and she is happy to now call this company her artistic home.

  • Kasey Foster (Movement Designer)

    Kasey is a performer, choreographer, producer, and director. She is an artistic associate at Lookingglass Theatre, a member of Actors’ Equity, and is represented by Gray Talent Group. Most recently, she was seen on stage in Manual Cinema’s Mementos Mori, and touring the country with Lookingglass’ Moby Dick. Foster sings with Chicago bands: Grood, Babe-alon 5, Old Timey, This Must be the Band, and a mysteriously nameless private events band. She has created over forty original works, and produces an annual series called Dance Tribute. For more about Kasey, check out

  • Izumi Inaba (Costume Designer)

    Izumi is delighted to return to Lifeline, where she designed The City & The CityLions in IllyriaMiss Buncle’s BookMr. Popper’s PenguinsThumbelina, and A Wrinkle In Time. Her recent design credits include The Crucible (Steppenwolf for Young Adults); The Who and The WhatAnimal Farm (Milwaukee Rep); and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (SS! Chicago Shakes). She is a recipient of Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award, and a resident designer at Albany Park Theater Project. M.F.A. in Stage Design, Northwestern University.

  • Joanna Iwanicka (Scenic Designer)

    Joanna is a set designer and a scenic artist. This marks her second MainStage design at Lifeline (proceeded by Monstrous Regiment). She also designed sets for the KidSeries (The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!Sparky!Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, to name a few), props (A Room with the View) and puppets (Watership DownDooby Dooby MooThe Last of the Dragons, among others). Joanna is an artistic associate of Rivendell Theatre Ensemble and 16th Street Theatre of Berwyn. She is also a member of IATSE locals 829 and 476. For more information visit

  • Zev Valancy (Dramaturg)

    Zev is excited to be making his Lifeline debut with Anna Karenina. He is the Co-Literary Manager at Stage Left Theatre, where he oversees new play programming, including founding and running the Downstage Left Playwright Residency. Dramaturgy credits at Stage Left include What of the Night?MuttPrincipal Principle, and Rabbit. Other dramaturgy credits include Quiz Show (Strawdog) and Marat/Sade (The Right Brain Project). Thanks to Jess, Amanda, and the whole Lifeline team for the opportunity, and Adam for everything else.

  • Emily Wills (Assistant Director)

    Emily is a proud member of Lifeline’s front of house staff, and is thrilled to be back in the rehearsal room Assistant Directing Anna Karenina after previously assisting with the 2016 production of Miss Holmes. Emily is a graduate of Northwestern University, with a BA in Theatre and Certificate of Civic Engagement. Emily can also be found teaching young actors and improvisors in Evanston and Chicago, storytelling with the Lifeline Storytelling Project, and Audio Describing Lifeline’s MainStage and KidSeries productions.


From Theater Mania

A Tragic Love Story Takes Center Stage in Anna Karenina 
February 27, 2018 
By Adelaide Lee

It seems like people can’t get enough of Anna Karenina. In the 140 years since the publication of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, multiple adaptations have taken to the stage, including operas, ballets, and a disastrous 1992 musical. Anna Karenina has generally been mounted as a big-budget affair, as befits the grandeur of Russian high society. However, at Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre, Jessica Wright Buha’s new, streamlined adaptation captures the heart of the novel without the benefit of a large, opulent production. Furthered by compelling direction from Amanda Link and a young, vital cast, this Anna Karenina is as tragic as it is romantic.

Tolstoy’s novel is not only one of the great tragic love stories, but also a philosophical treatise on morality, social change, religion, and politics. Lifeline Theatre’s production focuses on the two main narratives of the novel: the love affair carried on between the married Anna Karenina (Ilse Zacharias) and army officer Vronsky (Eric Gerard) to her ruin; and the budding romance of Anna’s sister-in-law Kitty (Brandi Lee) and her childhood friend, reformist landowner Levin (Dan Granata). Their stories incorporate countless cousins, in-laws, and sundry aristocrats, moving between Moscow, St. Petersburg, various country estates, and all the trains and train stations in between.

In the title role, Zacharias shows the equal parts of fragility and passion that lead Anna to her tragic end. She looks at Vronsky, played by Gerard with the candor and shameless sexuality that the role requires, the same way a woman dying of thirst looks at a glass of water. When their lust turns to love, their feelings are visceral enough that it is a shame to see them wane in Act 2. Michael Reyes gives Karenin, Anna’s husband, something more than an icy, paternalistic disdain, allowing the audience to sympathize with the slighted man even while Anna despises him.

Highlights from the well-rounded supporting cast include Lee, who charms as the young idealist Kitty; and Michele Stine, whose vocal work and puppetry as the Karenin’s young son, Seryozha, is surprisingly moving. It’s a testament to the cast’s utter commitment, as well as Link’s direction and Stephanie Diaz’s puppet design, that many of Anna Karenina‘s most emotional scenes are shared with a little child puppet.

Though the religious elements of the novel are largely excised in this adaptation, Christian iconography is prevalent in a painted motif in Joanna Iwanicka’s scenic design. The cast looks sharp in Izumi Inaba’s costumes, that include furs, hats and fine coats that help set the play’s mood. Diane D. Fairchild’s dappled, painterly lighting adds to the play’s melancholy. Trains recur as a visual element, both in Iwanicka’s cleverly compartmentalized, modal set that serves as a broad variety of locales, as well as in the movement design by Kasey Foster.

From Picture this Post

Lifeline Theatre presents ANNA KARENINA: Beautifully Staged Tale of Misery 
February 27, 2018 
By Lauren Katz


“Humans are destined for misery.”

Konstantin Levin attempts to explain to his maid why the woman he loves would refuse his marriage proposal. The line appropriately captures Levin’s negative and defeatist attitude that so accurately describes his character.

However, the line also acts as the perfect, one-line description for the story of Anna Karenina. Humans are always faced with choices, and while some may aim to search for the positive and hope, Leo Tolstoy clearly argues that any choice is simply one between the lesser of two evils.

Directed by Lifeline Theatre ensemble member Amanda Link and adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s novel by Lifeline ensemble member Jessica Wright Buha, the play carries many moving parts, but primarily follows the paths of Anna (Ilse Zacharias) and Levin (Dan Granata). Anna finds that she must make the impossible choice between following Vronsky (Eric Gerard), the man she loves, or remaining with her adoring son, but within a passionless marriage to Karenin (Michael Reyes). Levin finds himself in an impossible situation of his own – what will make him happy, and what is he willing to lose in order to discover that ultimate goal?

Set in late 19th century Russia, Budha’s adaptation beautifully captures the misery and devastation of the original novel. Tolstoy writes of individuals with troubling pasts and painful relationships, particularly within the title character, Anna. A woman in the late 1800s has little freedom, and Tolstoy shares the heartbreaking path of a woman who attempts to seize that happiness, and the unfortunate aftermath to follow. Buha’s Anna Karenina certainly is not hopeful, but the piece effectively lays out the story of a woman in an impossible situation, and invites the audience to consider how they would act in her place.

The Design

Lifeline Theatre’s intimate space offers the perfect mode of drawing the audience into the depths of the story, and creating an almost invasive sensation as they witness the inner workings of each relationship.

Set Designer Joanna Iwanicka’s stage is simple, but effective, with three levels on which the actors can play. The play follows multiple storylines, taking place in various locations from Russia to Italy, and the use of levels and moving staircases helps ease the audience into the understanding of the constant travel and complicated pathways.

Lighting Designer Diane D. Fairchild and Costume Designer Izumi Inaba collaborate to bring this elegant and dark world to life. Fairchild’s use of dark purples and blues beautifully emphasizes the dreary and mysterious mood of the piece. Inaba’s designs are gorgeous, and play a vital role in the storytelling – particularly in her gown choices for the ball.

The ball is a key scene in which everything begins to unravel. Kitty arrives at the party thinking that Vronsky will propose, but when he catches sight of Anna, everything changes. The moment sets the stage for everything that is to come, and Inaba’s choice to costume Kitty in white and Anna in a gown of red and black appropriately, but subtly brings attention to the danger of Anna’s presence.

Clever Staging

Link, in collaboration with Original Music and Sound Designer Eric Backus and Movement Designer Kasey Foster, creatively utilizes the ensemble to physicalize the moving parts of the story, from modes of transportation to heightening moments of key drama.

One example in particular takes place towards the beginning of the play when Anna is on a train to visit her brother and sister-in-law. Rather than building a train on stage, Backus creates the ambiance through his designs, and Link and Foster complete the sensation through actors’ bodies, and the use of repetitive and synced movement that signifies a moving train. The ending result is just as effective, but also adds an exciting layer to the piece.

The Ensemble

Link’s production utilizes the ensemble as a whole to tell the story, not only verbally, but also physically through movement, and the cast certainly rises to the challenge.

Anna’s son, Seryohza, is embodied in a wooden puppet, and Puppet Designer Stephanie Diaz creates a stunning prop for Michele Stine to use in portraying the character. Stine brings the youthful innocence of Seryohza to life, and masters the art of puppetry that adds a magical flare to the production.

Aneisa Hicks plays Dolly, Anna’s sister-in-law and numerous ensemble roles. Like the others, Dolly certainly has her tough decision to make when she finds her husband and father of her children has been cheating on her, and Hicks plays the devastation and difficulty of the journey with ease. On the other side of the spectrum, she showcases a charming and fun stage presence as the night-club singer later in the play, as well as a beautiful singing voice.

Granata and Lee as Levin and Kitty showcase a sweet relationship that is enjoyable to watch unfold. From the awkward beginning with an inability to share emotions to the difficulties of marriage that arise later in the story, Granata and Lee portray the relationship in a deeply authentic manner.

Zacharias carries no easy task in playing the role of Anna, but her performance is absolutely lovely. The character walks a truly devastating path, and Zacharias brings each stage in her story to life with an impressive honesty. Gerard and Zacharias share excellent stage chemistry, and the authenticity and hardship that the duo brings to the relationship only adds to the production. It is no surprise that Tolstoy refrains from granting Anna a perfect storybook ending, and Zacharias makes it easy for the audience to sympathize with this character’s impossible situation.

Creatively designed and beautifully acted, Buha’s adaptation offers an accessible and intriguing pathway into Leo Tolstoy’s classic.

From the Chicago Tribune

It’s Monday. It’s Rogers Park. And thanks to the strength of Chicago theater, it’s time for ‘Anna Karenina’ 
March 2, 2018 
By Chris Jones


At the Lifeline Theatre, the soon-to-be-departing artistic director Dorothy A. Milne gave the usual little curtain speech about cellphones and emergency exits, winding up to her climax: “And now,” she said, as if introducing a new route for the parking shuttle bus, “here’s ‘Anna Karenina.’ ”

Why not, on a Monday night in Rogers Park in a small room with not much money?

The curtain speech moved me, for it encapsulated one of the greatest things about Chicago theater: ambition. It is easy to take it for granted, but there still aren’t many towns in the world where you can roll up and find a completely new adaptation of the jottings of Leo Tolstoy. As the show started, my head raced to all the obvious problems: How were they going to stage the unfortunate encounter with the train? The myriad settings, from Moscow to St. Petersburg to a spa in Germany? How were they going to deal with the dazzling experimentation of form and Anna’s explosion of stream-of-consciousness angst? How long are we all going to be here on a school night?

And what about the kids she has with the two dudes in Anna’s life? Big roles, those. Major issues all around: plenty of reasons to pass on this particular title.

But, you know, Lifeline pulls it off. At least that’s the case for the vast majority of the show — the last few minutes, when the heroine really hits the skids, don’t rush to enough of an inevitable crisis and the abundant early specificity and creativity turns into hurried compromise. Those last few minutes just don’t sufficiently embody the full complexity of loss. It basically feels like the director, Amanda Link, ran out of time. Which is forgivable, when you are doing “Anna Karenina” and you have done most of it so well.

The show’s great strength is the world-premiere adaptation, by Jessica Wright Buha, remarkable for how well it dramatizes the whole show. By dramatizes, I mean it does the job without narration: Anna does not share her inner thoughts. No ensemble head pops up to say, “Anna went to Rome” and thus sweep us to a different place.

Rather, Buha has turned every scene in the novel into dialogue. It’s an impressive feat — and it makes this production an ideal introduction to Tolstoy, indeed to romantic Russian realism, for a young person, long a strength at Lifeline. In so doing, Link takes a few more risks than has been typical at this theater — wading into some cool theatrical devices, including bodies that heave and sigh on cue. Anna’s beloved but abandoned son, Seryozha, is imagined as an emotionally resonant puppet, manipulated quite beautifully by Michele Stine. I got a real lump in my throat when the puppet asked the reasons for his abandonment, a question that Anna Karenina cannot answer, and from which she never can recover.

You have to make choices to bring in “AK” at 2½ hours, and Buha goes mostly with the sharp edges of the love-triangle between Anna (Ilse Zacharias), hubby Karenin (Michael Reyes) and, of course, her beloved but illicit Count Vronsky (Eric Gerard). The show works up plenty of heat between Anna and Vronsky — vroom, vroom — and contrasts that very nicely with Reyes’ irritating but still empathetic Karenin, making it all a microcosm of why people have affairs, which is a cool way to go.

Tolstoy, of course, was a master of precise characterization, which Buha really does exploit very well. And Link, to her credit and with great help from the honest Zacharias, avoids the trap of hyperventilation or bathos, into which movies based on Tolstoy often sink.

You watch this show very much involved in Anna’s situation — and the adaptation puts its focus on the situational, the things that get in the way of happiness, the irreconcilability of choice and obligation. And it notes with particular force that almost all these obligations were things over which a woman in this particular time and place had very little control.

From Buzz Center Stage

In Anna Karenina, Marriages Fail Or Succeed, Each In Their Own Way 
March 2, 2018 
By Bill Esler

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, said Tolstoy. And Lifeline Theatre artfully explores that famous maxim in Anna Karenina, its colorful and artful adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel.

The story of Anna Karenina follows a 19th century woman’s fall from grace. Dutiful but unfulfilled in her marriage to Karenin, an unimaginative Russian government bureaucrat, Anna compensates by doting on her six-year-old son – until an affair up-ends everything, leading to tragedy.

I have to admit that the idea of Anna Karenina being adapted for Lifeline Theater’s stage was a little off-putting. After all, Leo Tolstoy’s poignant examination of a woman’s inner struggle is regarded as a pinnacle in writing, called “flawless” by both Dosteyevsky and Nabokov, and “the best ever written” by Faulkner. It’s so good it has inspired nine operas, four ballets, and 18 different movies.

What does Lifeline Theatre bring to the party after all that? Something good, it turns out – with a creative approach that captures key aspects of the novel – while delivering more than a Cliff’s Notes summary. Anna Karenina – both the play and the novel – is largely melodrama, ending in tragedy. Tolstoy’s skillfully drawn characters provide the emotional touch points that remain fresh today, and can work on stage.

Challenging, though, is the Tolstoy’s sweeping scope and settings – estates, boulevards, palaces and mansions in St. Petersburg and Moscow, and the trains and farms between them – which may explain why it has been adapted just twice before for stage. It’s hard to bring all that to the boards.

But cramming a lot of life into a little stage is where Lifeline Theatre excels. Ensemble members Jessica Wright Buha (playwright and adaptor) and Amanda Link (director) have done a colorful, even exciting job. Crowding the two-story stage in a series of vignettes of key scenes from the novel are eleven performers, along with puppets designed by Stephanie Diaz (these play the role of infants and children).

Players shift from principal characters to ensemble roles, performing sometimes in stylized movements and sounds that create what is in some respects is more performance piece than dramatization of Anna Karenina. Excellent lighting (Diane D. Fairchild), and original music and sound design (Eric Backus), build key scenes from the novel. Perhaps as a result, individual performances are subordinated to the overall creative presentation. Actors are on stage in short shots, not aimed at building character, so much as advancing the storyline.

Buha summarizes Tolstoy effectively by focusing on four parallel relationships: Anna and her husband Karenin; Stiva and his wife Dolly; Vronsky and his two paramours; Kitty and her husband Levin – allowing us to compare and contrast the best and worst of these pairings.

The action opens with Countess Anna (Ilse Zacharias ably carries this demanding role) heading to visit her brother, Prince Stiva Oblonsky (Dan Cobbler brings great energy), who has had an extramarital affair. He and his wife Dolly agree to Anna’s counsel to stay and pick up the pieces. But Dolly (Aneisa Hicks in one of the stronger performances) voices her predicament: “How can I stay?,” she asks Anna. “But if I leave, where will I go?” It’s an apt summary of a woman’s plight at the time, and foreshadow’s Anna’s own situation.

In the novel intellectually curious and quite lovely, Anna catches the eye of Count Vronsky, a widely admired young officer for whom women swoon. Truly smitten, Vronsky sets his sites on seducing Anna, abandoning 18 year old Kitty, the debutant to whom he was nearly engaged.

Eventually Anna falls for Vronsky, becomes pregnant, and her options narrow – dictated by convention. Her husband Karenin is willing to turn a blind eye to the affair to maintain the marriage; or Anna can seek a divorce, but will likely lose custody of her son.

Eric Gerard as Vronsky puts forth a believable animal magnetism, but seemed more of a caricature at first. In later scenes he is compelling in his desperation to move Anna to divorce, and commit fully to life with him. Kudos also to Gay Glenn, who brings the gravitas to play Vronsky’s mother, Countess Vronskaya; Lindsey Dorcus as Anna’s enabler (and Vronsky’s cousin) Betsy; and Jason Pereira as Kapitonich, a composite character.

Anna’s husband, Karenin (Michael Reyes is suitably doltish), is willing even to endure an open marriage and adopt her child with Vronsky, if Anna can maintain some semblance of discretion. Another character, family friend Levin (Dan Granata acts well but did not project from the stage), struggles to get married, and suffers endless angst after Kitty, spurned by Vronsky, agrees to marry, reversing an earlier refusal. Brandi Lee’s Kitty moves adeptly from disappointed ingenue, to practical mother and wife, coaching her diffident husband to overcome his self doubt.

The production runs two and a half hours with an intermission, and is surprisingly fast paced and engaging. Anna Karenina runs through April 8 at Lifeline Theatre.

From Windy City Times

March 5, 2018 
By Mary Shen Barnidge

Compared to his earlier War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy’s thousand-page Anna Karenina may have been a light read for the Russian intelligentsia during the turbulent years before the revolution. However, while its tale of passion among the privileged continues to resonate in 2018, literary consumers today are more likely to encounter it within the abbreviated dimensions of its many adaptations—cinematic, operatic and balletic—making Jessica Wright Buha’s tidy two-and-a-half-hour synopsis a welcome addition to the list.

Dramatically, the narrative recounts the connubial adventures of three aristocratic households, two of them already troubled at the very outset. Indeed, the errand bringing Anna, our heroine, to the big city of Moscow is an intercession on behalf of her philandering brother. No sooner has his wife been persuaded to adhere to her marriage vows, however, than Anna meets the dashing officer Alexei, with whom she embarks upon an adulterous affair complicated by her reluctance to divorce her boring husband—thus surrendering custody of her young son—and the inability of the illicit paramours to conceal their mutually obsessive attachment.

Since the tenets of Romanticism mandate lovers behaving in selfish and foolish ways, playgoers of less empathetic bent may opt to analyze the lessons in responsibility offered by Tolstoy, who presents us with problems—spousal age gaps, extramarital infatuations, self-defeating goals—and then proposes solutions, the consequences of which we can assess for ourselves. For example, in contrast with her emotion-racked kin, the adolescent Kitty Oblonsky willingly chooses to marry a childhood friend a few years older than herself—the shy and bookish Levin—but soon demonstrates a maturity conferring contentment upon their union.

Lifeline Theatre’s technical staff proves likewise capable of delivering the miracles necessary to create grand-scale cosmology in a physically restricted space. Amanda Link’s visual direction encapsulates a child’s anguish in a wooden-faced marionette, the pains of parturition in a red-stained bedsheet and the progress of Anna and Alexei’s fatal liaison in a pas de deux endowing a Mazurka’s marching-drill choreography with the smoldering sensuality of a tango. Joanna Iwanicka embellishes her constructivist scenic design with motifs drawn from the radical Symbolist Art movement of the period, while Izumi Inaba’s wardrobe spans pre- and post-World War I fashions, both hinting at the era of social emancipation to come.

From Chicago Onstage

Lifeline’s “Anna Karenina” Shines, Though Act Two Proves Daunting 
March 2, 2018 
By Karen Topham

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

So begins Anna Karenina, a Promethean study of the heart’s capacity for profound love, reckless passion, hopeless frailty, and torturous self-doubt. As a work of realistic fiction, Anna Karenina is a masterpiece. And, every bit as seductive as the novel’s main character, Anna’s siren song has called out to artists, luring them to bring her tragic story to the stage. Yet, this call–like so many of the choices Anna makes throughout her story–is fraught with the potential for disaster.

More on this later.

Lifeline’s Anna Karenina has no shortage of redeeming qualities. The ensemble cast and crew are teeming with talent, and, from the arrival of the first train that begins the play, it’s clear that they’ve wholeheartedly leapt into the task of bringing Anna to the stage. From the stage design to the litany of strong performances by the ensemble cast, to the flawless direction of Amanda Link and her captivating use of space, sound, light, and set, the play is, by turns, creative, arresting, heartbreaking, and transporting.

The adaptation by ensemble member Jessica Wright Buha’s reflects what must have been a daunting task: to whittle a 900+ page odyssey of life, love, and marriage in late 19th century Russia down to a 2 ½ hour theater experience. Yet, throughout the first act, from her first moment onstage when Anna says goodbye to her young son, Seryohza–brought to life as a puppet, artfully designed by Stephanie Diaz and voiced by Michele Stein–to her fateful decision to leave her family, Buha’s adaptation puts Anna’s deeply passionate, intelligent, profoundly conflicted soul on full display. Ilse Zacharias’s take on the role boils over with energy and emotion as she grows more compelling, complex, and beautifully conflicted with each scene.

Anna’s trip to Moscow is a mission to save the marriage of her brother Stiva (Dan Cobbler), who has been unfaithful to his wife Dolly (Aneisa Hicks). Cobbler is excellent as the unrepentant, unapologetic Stiva, while Hicks gives a solid performance as the scorned wife who chooses to make it work when faced with nothing but uncertainty for herself and her children. But her life changes course when she meets Count Vronsky (Eric Gerard), a rich, charming, virile, man in uniform, with no qualms about ditching his young love interest, Kitty (Brandi Lee), and throwing himself, body and soul, at a married woman. Gerard is true to the part, though at times, in both the novel and play, it’s difficult to tell what deeper motivation drives his character–or maybe it’s really not that complicated.

Nonetheless, Vronsky follows Anna back to her home in Petersburg–where she has returned to Seryosha and her husband, the utterly moral but hopelessly distant Karenin, expertly played by Michael Reyes. Vronsky and Anna begin a passionate affair that changes the course of their lives. Anna soon finds that her love for Vronsky is impossible to deny or hide. She confesses her affair and reveals she is pregnant with Vronsky’s child. Following her daughter’s birth, Anna is brought to the brink of death by a fever, and she calls both men to her bedside. In an unexpected hallucinatory soliloquy, she seemingly chooses her husband Karenin, recognizing his inherent goodness. But after her recovery, Vronsky’s attempted suicide prompts Anna to leave her husband and son and run away with her lover.

Running parallel to Anna’s tempestuous affair with Vronsky is the story of the engagement and marriage of Levin and Kitty, played by Dan Granata and Brandi Lee. Cast in the role of the stable couple, Granata and Lee shine together as he exhibits Levin’s growing self-doubt and questioning while she demonstrates Kitty’s countervailing certainty and strength.

Levin travels to Moscow to ask Kitty to marry him, but she, like many, is smitten with Vronsky, so she initially rejects Levin’s proposal.

But, later, the two reconcile after Levin learns that Kitty has been utterly forgotten by Vronsky and has taken ill with heartbreak. He arranges to meet her again and she asks for Levin’s forgiveness. He wastes no time in telling her that he can both “forgive and forget”. What follows should be a relatively mundane marriage, at least compared to the firestorm Anna and Vronsky have plunged into, but, as it turns out, the relationship still provides Levin with more than enough potential for intense emotional searching, self-loathing, and existential crisis.

And all of this before intermission.

Herein lies the potential for disaster.

Tolstoy once described Anna Karenina as his first “true” novel. The stories of Anna and Levin challenge us to abandon the urge to make simple judgments and grow in our humanity as we come to grips with the way our inherent virtues and best intentions co-mingle with deep desires that threaten to unravel our lives.

Tolstoy’s characters are absolutely compelling. We dive deep into their minds. We watch as they make their way through relatively minor moments and small, insignificant decisions. We bear witness to their redeeming qualities and eccentricities. So when Anna does something that might seem utterly crazy–like leave the son she adores and husband she admits is good man–we, somehow, get it. And when Levin–who we’ve watched build a life pretty close to the one he always imagined–is making his way through yet another self-imposed existential crisis… we get it.

Why do we get it? Because we have mowed the lawn with him for six pages earlier in the book. Honestly, Tolstoy devotes an entire chapter to describing Levin scything the grass with the peasants while he thinks about his life. So we know he likes to think about stuff because we’ve seen him do it before. And it all pays off. We are richly rewarded. We have been on their journey, so we understand why they do what they do, even when we don’t agree with them. In the end, Levin does what Anna fails to do: he comes to grips with his life. He decides to live, and he tries not to worry so much about the parts of his life he can’t fix.

Unfortunately, the problem for Lifeline’s Anna Karenina is that there’s not enough time. In an effort to stay faithful to the book in the second act, the play cherry picks the most dramatic decisions, but doesn’t give time for the context that allows these choices to make sense, so the play moves at a breakneck pace through a series of nakedly raw emotional moments that, at times, don’t add up. Midway through the act, the energy and emotion of the first act have waned. Vronsky seems boorish and angry, Anna appears hopelessly lost, Levin is incessantly whining for no discernible reason, and we feel sorry for poor Kitty who has to put up with him. The performances are still strong, but without context, the play descends into a study in anxiety, self-loathing, and poor decision making, as the characters hurtle ever deeper into largely avoidable misery.

Still, even with the rocky second act, this production shows genuine courage. What’s lost in terms of Tolstoy’s “truth”, is made up for by bravery, fine performances, style and overall production value. While it’s tough to imagine what it must be like to try to adapt a book as complex and consequential as Anna Karenina, it’s equally tough not to admire the writer, director, cast and crew for throwing caution to the wind and going for it. And considering there are more than a few genuinely wonderful moments, not to mention great performances, to be found in the play, it’s definitely worth it.