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Saturday, February 9, 2013 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.

Desperate housewives of Moscow and America on Seattle stages

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

Two new stage productions opening in Seattle this weekend plumb the desperation of housewives in extremis.

‘Anna Karenina’

From Russian with love: “Anna Karenina.” When Leo Tolstoy’s novel came out in serial form in the 1870s, it offered a radically realistic view of a well-born wife and mother who sacrifices all for an adulterous love affair.

Anna’s story is no longer a shocker. But it still can absorb readers, film fans and perhaps theater audiences with its acute understanding of human desire, frailty and aspiration.

The bold and impressionist 2012 cinematic treatment of the book, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley in the impassioned title role, is still in movie theaters and has garnered four Oscar nominations (including for the sumptuous costumes and dazzling production design).

A less-pictorial and more-faithful-to-Tolstoy stage dramatization can be seen in a Seattle mounting by Book-It Repertory Theatre. It’s something of a departure for a troupe that tends to mine English-language classics for its repertoire.

Adapted by actor-playwright Kevin McKeon, the production stars Book-It regulars Emily Grogan and Andrew DeRycke as Anna and her upright husband, Karenin, and recent University of Washington grad Scott Ward Abernethy as Anna’s dashing lover, Vronsky.

Nearly all of Book-It’s shows are world premieres of its own adaptations, but “Anna Karenina” was commissioned by Oregon’s Portland Center Stage, where it debuted last year. Oregonian newspaper reviewer Marty Hughley praised the physical beauty of that staging, and wrote,“McKeon’s adaptation tells the sprawling tale in quick, economical strokes.”

Book-It, however, has its own performance style and succinct visual palette. It will be interesting to see what it brings to a fierce romance which, in an era where adultery and divorce are commonplace and de-stigmatized, can still fascinate.

Friday-March 3 at Center House, Seattle Center (206-216-0833 or www.book-it.org)

‘Next to Normal’

Over the past year or two, Balagan Theatre has earned a rosy reputation for its small-scale but invigorated productions of contemporary musicals.

Now the company kicks it up another notch with “Next to Normal,” a Tony Award-winning rock tuner about the family dysfunction sparked by a modern wife and mother plagued by mental illness.

Written by local native Brian Yorkey with music by Tom Kitt, the show started off in a workshop at Issaquah’s Village Theatre, thrived on Broadway and returned here to the 5th Avenue Theatre in 2011 — a run marred by the severe vocal problems of its star, Tony-winner Alice Ripley.

In Balagan’s chamber-sized staging directed by Brandon Ivie and co-produced by Ivie’s company Contemporary Classics, Beth DeVries portrays Diana, whose bipolar disease is treated in this pre-“Silver Linings Playbook” musical drama with admirable candor and, at times, even humor.

Friday-March 2 at Erickson Theatre Off Broadway, 1524 Harvard Ave., Seattle (206-329-1050 or www.balagantheatre.org)

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com


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