One might expect a show that has a Russian name in the title and is playing at the notoriously chilly St. Vlad’s theatre to be a rather cold experience, but Karenin’s Anna, presented by Squeaky Wheel Productions, is just the opposite. Playing now as part of this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, Karenin’s Anna is a show that works perfectly in such an intimate setting, and is also one that Fringers should get their tickets to soon.
From the first nervous burst of laughter to the final quiet moments, I found myself completely wrapped up in the story. Anna (Caitlin Robson) and Sergei (Daniel Pagett) have tied the knot so that Sergei, a Russian professor, can get his green card. As a man named Tolstoy once wrote, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, and these two certainly appear very unhappy with the situation and with each other. Throughout the show, though, we see their relationship change and grow in unexpected ways, and see them both navigate through various fears, flaws and feelings.
The set and pre-show sounds create an atmosphere that make the audience feel as if they are watching real people in a real home living their real, complicated lives. The space is set up with the audience on three sides and Anna’s apartment in the middle, and the action continues even through scene transitions, which means there is (mercifully) very little opportunity for awkward eye contact with the audience member across from you.
Robson’s almost frantic energy keeps the show going, and she never lets Anna’s intensity drop. Pagett, speaking with a near flawless Russian accent, has less to say than his new wife, but the things he does say are simple, poignant and often hilarious. The two really nail the I-don’t-like-you-but-I-agreed-to-this-so-I-guess-I’ll-put-up-with-you nature of their relationship and play off of each other effectively.
One of my favourite parts of the show was when Sergei is icing a cake while listening to Italian opera and practicing his English. Not only is the dialogue laugh-out-loud funny, Pagett’s delivery and comedic timing are also bang on. While broken English is often written in a way that makes a character seem more like a caricature than a real person, in this case it works and works very well.
In fact, all of the dialogue works incredibly well. Michael Ross Albert’s script is brilliantly clever and original, and offers a perfect balance of drama and comedy. His nods to Russian literature, references to a certain Bel-Air based ’90s sitcom and highly realistic dialogue all add up to a very strong show, and I truly felt that the actors respected the script and were committed to the piece. The story is believable and genuine, and I only wish it had been longer.
As Sergei reminds Anna, in life we can always keep going forward. I highly suggest that you go forward to St. Vlad’s to see this gem of a show before you miss your chance.
Karenin’s Anna plays at St. Vlad’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue).
July 05 at 12:30 PM
July 06 at 07:30 PM
July 08 at 06:45 PM
July 09 at 09:30 PM
July 11 at 11:30 PM
July 12 at 01:45 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club (rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Photo of Daniel Pagett, Caitlin Robson and Chris Gleason by Iris Chan.