Anna in the Tropics
Set in the heavily Cuban Ybor City in Florida, 1929, a family owned cigar factory is facing the industrialization necessary for their company to survive, which will not only mean fewer workers will be needed to do the jobs, but the elimination of a beloved institution: the "lector" - a person who reads aloud to the workers. The new reader at the Alcalar cigar factory is handsome Juan Julian Rios, whose reading from Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" beguiles the family's younger daughter Marela who develops a crush on Juan, and ignites the sexual passion of her older sister Conchita, whose marital relations with husband Palomo have dried up. The tale of "Anna Karenina" becomes an overwhelming influence on everyone (the patriarch Santiago even names his newest cigar after the doomed Anna) and the brooding Cheché sees Juan as the embodiment of the man who stole his own wife, which ultimately leads to a conclusion as tragic as anything in Tolstoy.
Ott choreographs as much as she directs this compelling work, played out on a dazzling revolving set by Hugh Landwehr. John Herrera (still remembered as Neville Landless in the irreplaceable original Broadway cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood) is endearing as the irascible, gambling-addicted yet warm-hearted Santiago and is perfectly matched by Maria Elena Ramirez as his saucy, sometimes acid-tongued, yet devoted wife Ofelia. Bryant Mason is initially stiff, yet ultimately winning as the handsome, tale-spinning Juan Julian, Romi Dias elicits compassion as the frustrated Conchita, and Paolo Andino mines the humor inherent in his role as her cuckolded husband Palomo. The scene where Andino cajoles Dias into showing him how Mason makes love to her (he taking the feminine part) is a highlight of the show.
Tanya Perez is captivating as the fantasy-obsessed Marela, subtly enduring Juan Julian's mild rejection of her before succumbing to a brutal rape by Peter Allas' unbalanced yet pathetic Cheché.
Deb Trout costumes the proceeding with sizzle, color, and a touch of tongue-in-cheek, and Peter Maraudin's lighting complements the majesterial set ideally. Steve LeGrand's sound design is full of unfamiliar Latin melodies, which help transport us to the play's alien landscape.
Though Ott's tenure at the Rep has received nearly equal negative criticism in proportion to kudos, I salute her for many fine accomplishments since 1997 and thank her for mounting these two plays which introduced Seattle audiences to the playwriting prowess of Nilo Cruz.
Anna in the Tropics runs through October 30, 2004 at Seattle Repertory Theatre's Bagley Wright main-stage, 155 Mercer St. in Seattle center. For more information, visit the Rep on-line at www.seattlerep.org.