Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Anna in The tropics"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Larry Stark

"Anna in The tropics"

By Nilo Cruz
Directed by Daniel Jaquez

Set Design by Susan Zeeman Rogers
Lighting Design by Linda O'Brien
Costume Design by Amanda Mujica
Sound Design by J Hagenbuckle
Assistant Stage Managers Kevin R. Fitzpatrick, Cole Genuardi
Production Manager Paul Melone
Production Stage Manager Dana Elizabeth Wolf

Eliades/ Palomo...Diego Arciniegas
Santiago...............Dick Santos
Cheche................Robert Saoud
Marela.............Angela Sperazza
Conchita.............Melinda Lopez
Ofelia............Bobbie Steinbach
Juan Julian............Liam Torres

Well, it started as a novel [SEE BELOW, this is an error!], and so Nilo Cruz' staged version of "Anna in The Tropics" has a truly complicated set of characters, all elbowing one another for enough time to tell their own stories while none of them become the center from which all the others can be understood. The true "hero" of this story is really not a person but the factory making hand-rolled cigars in a sleepy little semi-Cuban town called Tampa Florida in 1929, as it is about to be swept into history by mechanization. There is too much here that must happen OFF-stage for its stellar cast to find a center.

For instance, Diego Arciniegas plays a man who has driven his wife (Melinda Lopez) away by taking a lover, but when she in turn has an affair he demands that she describe everything her own lover does with her, and that (though most of it happens off-stage) somehow strengthens their weird marriage. This alone is story enough for an entire play --- yet Cruz makes it only one of several.

Robert Saoud plays a man who is lucky only at gambling and buys a part-interest in the firm. His hope of success lies in making cigars with machines instead of people, yet this vision of the inevitable makes him despised by everyone he wants to have admire him, and it drives him murderously insane. But since this is not His story, his actions come as an unprepared shock.

And then there are the older generation --- Dick Santos and Bobbie Steinbach playing the factory's owner (disgracefully UNlucky at gambling!) and his wife. Their solution to inevitable economic doom is a newer, better cigar, ignoring a depression that the year of the play (1929)pre-figures, and so here is yet another possible center.

Yet there is also a story for Liam Torres who plays the new "lector" --- a figure combining elements of professor, pastor and rock-star who reads 13 chapters of Tolstoy to a rapt audience of cigar-wrappers. The play gives him barely enough stage-time to establish this historically significant yet forgotten humanization of hand-work, so the complications of his affair, a sort of humanization of this god-figure, is given only a steaming sex-scene in lieu of one more three-act subject.

Of course, the whole story could again be seen through the eyes of Angela Sperazza, playing the youngest of the cigar-workers whose virginal enthusiasm is for the life not of "Anna in The Tropics" but Anna Karenina's story of passion and conflict. Cruz, with so many other big things to talk about, reduces her to a walk-on swelling scenes.

And then I must say that this is a cast that, with inadequate tools, makes every one of these characters into People as they try to imply what the playwright has not written --- what the original novel (like "Anna Karenina" itself) took time to say thoroughly, completely, and I suspect movingly. It may be true that most of this exceptional cast can draw on personal Latin-American experience to inform their relationships, and Director Daniel Jaquez is familiar with this background. They work well together on Susan Zeeman Rogers' wide set under Linda O'Brien's hot lighting. Inevitably, however, the richness of their playing adds up to much too much for one play to handle.


NOTE: Date: Fri, 01 Apr 2005 01:04:56 +0000 (GMT)
From: "jerem g"
Subject: Anna review

Dear Larry,
In your review of "Anna in the Tropics" you state that it started out as a novel -- which didn't quite sound right to me. Sure enough, I haven't found any kind of documentation about Cruz' play beginning life as a novel; in fact, I've read that it was commissioned by the New Theater in Coral Gables, Florida. Do you have a better source about this? I'd be interested to know...
Thanks!Jeremy G.

You must be right. I'm seventy-two and read the TIMES on Sundays. It was probably a big article on the PLAY when it got the Pulitzer than I remembered as being in the Book Review.
Frankly, I wish it WERE a novel; there's Much too much Subtext that the actors have to handle for a stage show.
Sorry for the lapse!

"Anna in The tropics" (4 - 26 March)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

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