Review of Anna in the Tropics
By Nilo Cruz
Directed by Marty Pistone
6th Street Playhouse
For tickets / schedule :
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa
RUN: March 11 – March 26, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(March 11, 2016)
Pulitzer Prize winning play Anna in the Tropics was crafted by Nilo Cruz in 2002, premiering in Florida near where the play is set. In the 19th century, Cuban immigrants brought their culture and experiences to the Tampa area, including the tradition of using a lector in cigar factories to educate workers during the mindless repetition of cigar rolling. In 1929, the world was changing; cigars were falling out of favor for quick smoking cigarettes, and automation encroached on factory workers, who found themselves out of work.
Director Marty Pistone’s staging is visceral and sensatory. Through movement and props, tropical humidity wafts into the audience, transporting them to sticky Florida heat through the power of suggestion. The story is an intricate weaving of relationships paralleled and opposed to the lector’s reading of Anna Karenina to the workers. The icy passion of winter Russia melts its way into hearts, freeing them to explore their dreams or trapping them within self-made prisons of desire. While there are exciting moments, the majority of the play is quiet stirring of the depths of souls thirsting for something more to life. Desires are found and lost, longing is denied or succumbed to, and emptiness is filled by Tolstoy’s words for good or ill.
This play is not appropriate for a younger audience, as there are mature concepts and brief nudity. While not shown on stage, there is a rape scene which warrants a trigger warning. The character affected by it reacts with numbed detachment, wrapping herself in a fur coat despite the summer heat, keeping close to herself. As is often the case with such attacks, the perpetrator is a family member, which makes it all the more tragic for her character.
The cast is superb, even Bibi Small as Factory Worker, who rarely says a word, but is a forceful presence on stage. Dan Villalva brings Santiago full circle from caricature gambler to an insightful overseer who is tender to his wife and enthusiastic about his career. Laura Sottile exudes confidence as matriarch Ofelia, the true force behind the factory, yet retains her femininity. The parallel to Anna, Bronwen Shears (Conchita) is a poet trapped in a practical life with a husband who does not understand her. Lito Briano (Palomo) has given up on finding happiness, until seeing Conchita discover it with her paramour, and a spark awakens inside him, recapturing his affection for her. She quotes Tolstoy. “If it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts,” encouraging him to find a new way to love her. Dapper and sophisticated, Armando Rey as Juan Julian, the lector, is drawn to the romanticism inherent in Conchita, helping her find parts of herself she did not know were there. When machines are introduced to the factory, his stirring speech about the pace of modern life destroying society is riveting.
Immerse yourself in tropical intrigue with an exceptional cast, thoughtful interwoven vignettes, and warm set designs from Jesse Dreikosen. 6th Street Playhouse’s Anna in the Tropics is a tribute to Cuban-American culture and the struggles of balancing tradition with the frenzied expectations of modern living. It brings out the best and worst of humanity’s ability to love, much as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was to the 19th century.