Toronto Fringe: Furtive desires emerge in Karenin’s Anna

karenin's anna - 2Karenin’s Anna is playwright Michael Ross Albert’s modern-day adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, directed by Luke Marty and currently running in the Toronto Fringe at St. Vladimir’s Theatre.

In this two-hander version, Anna (Caitlin Robson) is a Brooklyn girl who has just married Sergei Karenin (Daniel Pagett), the cousin of a friend, so he can get his green card. For the next six months, he will be living with her in her one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on the couch and paying her rent. Anna intends to use the money to pursue childhood flame Bobby, who is off in Italy to marry someone else.

From the moment the two enter Anna’s apartment, there is an earnest quality to their relationship, even in their polite stranger’s distance. As the play progresses, the dynamic between them evolves, and new – and previously hidden – feelings and emotions emerge.

Robson does a lovely job with Anna, a restless, passionate woman, full of longing – her emotions sometimes getting the better of her and shifting to cruelty. Pagett’s Sergei is nicely layered, frustrations surging beneath his calm politeness as he struggles with his own desires, missing his beloved back home terribly. Both are living daily lives of quiet desperation that can only come to a boil.

With shouts to Marty’s in-the-round set design, which gives the audience an intimate, fly-on-the-wall perspective of this relationship.

Karenin’s Anna is a beautifully rendered adaptation, told with passion and truth by an excellent pair of actors.

The show runs at St. Vladimir’s Theatre until July 12 – check here for exact dates/times.

 

Queen Milli of Galt a charming, touching Canadian fairytale love story

It’s been a while since I visited The Village Playhouse in Toronto’s Bloor West Village neighbourhood – and last night brought me out to see my friend Victoria Shepherd’s latest directing gig for Gary Kirkham’s play Queen Milli of Galt.

The play was inspired by a true Canadian story: Millicent Milroy, a retired teacher in Galt, Ontario (now Cambridge), caused quite a stir when she had a tombstone made, the inscription describing herself as the wife of King Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor. Bookended with short scenes outside her family home in 1972, where a young journalist visits in an attempt to get her story (shortly after Edward’s death), the play transports the audience back into 1919, the year that Edward – then a young Prince of Wales – was taking a train tour of Canada, including small-town Ontario. The meeting is accidental and the Prince, who introduces himself with his Christian name David, and Milli initially despise each other. And, of course – since this is a love story – the sparring turns into respect, friendship and more.

Shepherd found a lovely cast for this production: Lydia Monet (Milli) and Luke Marty (doing double duty as the journalist and Edward) have lovely chemistry as the young lovers, and it’s great fun to watch as serious, small-town schoolteacher Milli and cheeky playboy royal David find their mutual revulsion transform into friendship and love. Anne McDougall is adorably sweet as Milli’s enthusiastic church lady mother Mrs. Milroy, while David Eden gives a lovely layered performance Edward’s wry-witted, but amiable personal secretary Godfrey, and Caitlin Robson brings some big-city, modern girl dazzle as Milli’s friend, actress Mona.

Those of you who’ve been to the Village know that it’s a bit of a tricky set-up – the small rectangular stage with a support column at the down right corner (dubbed “Andrew”), with audience seated in an L-shaped arrangement around it. Set designer Alexis Chubb did a lovely job of realizing the worlds of the two main characters, with David’s tour train suite stage right (where images were projected on the back wall to evoke time and place, as well as the characters’ thoughts and memories), and the front garden and front door of Milli’s house stage left. Minimal furniture/set pieces for optimal playing space; for scenes taking place elsewhere, including a state ball, the full stage was taken as the new environment – nice staging by director Shepherd on this challenging stage. Shouts as  well to costume designer Theresa Arneaud for the fabulous period togs and John Stuart Campbell for the evocative soundtrack, which included both popular tunes of the period and thematic music for scene changes.

Queen Milli of Galt runs until February 2 – ticket reservations are recommended as this show is been very popular (I tried to book the first Sunday matinée and it was already sold out).

Wanna know more about what it’s about? Check out the production’s video, which features Shepherd, Monet and Robson: