Credit: courtesy Lifeline Theatre

There’s a notion in Jewish mysticism that the Torah appears in different forms in different eras, depending on how much the people of that era can absorb—a collection of fables, say, at one time, the pure presence of God at another. Something similar seems to apply to Leo Tolstoy’s 1878 novel Anna Karenina. Interpreters have treated it as everything from a bodice ripper to a deep philosophical treatise.

For her stage adaptation, getting its world premiere production now at Lifeline Theatre, Jessica Wright Buha turns the tale into a meditation on the nature of love. Certainly, the title character uses that word often enough. A young aristocrat stuck in a frosty marriage to an older man, Anna (Ilse Zacharias) compulsively plies her six-year-old son with I-love-yous. Then she and the sexy Count Vronsky (Eric Gerard) toss the phrase back and forth between them during their affair, using it like a magical spell capable of making every difficulty disappear.

Which, of course, it isn’t. I have my problems with Amanda Link’s staging—Michael Reyes takes Anna’s husband to a Nosferatu-like level of bloodlessness, and the choice of a puppet to play the six-year-old comes across as an uncomfortable expedient—but by the end of this version’s 150-minute running time, Anna’s tragic mistake on the one hand and Tolstoy’s plainer, harsher, truer vision of love’s meaning on the other were both powerfully communicated. The supporting cast are excellent (particularly Dan Granata as the Socrates-addled Levin), but certain instances of double casting are confusing.

Anna Karenina Recommended. Through 4/8: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 4 PM, Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, 773-761-4477,, $20-$40.