Amidst a culture that has nearly forgotten the power of great works of literature to transform our lives with beauty and enlightenment, playwright Nilo Cruz tells the story of such a work's ability to change the lives of one family. The setting for Anna in the Tropics is Tampa in 1929 where a family of Cuban cigar-makers hires a lector to read books aloud to the family's factory workers as they roll cigars. The tradition had long been in keeping in their native Cuba, though lectors were removed from the cigar factories after 1931 when cigar-rollers were replaced by machines. This story represents the nearing end of an era, and the impending change ahead is echoed in the lector's choice of novels to read. He chooses Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and to Tolstoy's story their own lives begin a metamorphoses that is most unexpected.
Nilo Cruz's style is reflective of a young Tennessee Williams. His use of poetic imagery leaves a lovely and lasting impression, and his characters are layered with a thirst for intimacy that remains unquenched. Though there is a starkness to the last scene of the play that feels unfinished, undoubtedly smoothness will come to this playwright with the passage of time. In addition to receiving a Tony Award Nomination for Anna In The Tropics Nilo Cruz is the first Hispanic writer to be honored with a Pulitzer Prize and is also the recipient the American Theatre Critics Association Steinberg Award.
This production features some student designers who render solid scenic and sound elements. Maritxell Carrero is luminous as Conchita. She is clearly an actress of much promise. Emily J. Frail and Jose Grau are both truly enjoyable as husband and wife. Deanne Saavedra is interesting as Marella, but she and Renier Murillo as Cheche are the only two cast members without the appropriate suggestion of an accent. The only stumbling block to this production is a miscast Juan Espinosa who falls far short as the suave and handsome Juan Julian. He clumsily allows the smoldering embers of Miss Carrero's character to slip through his fingers in love scenes meant to inspire, and never truly defines his character. Otherwise, this show as directed by Wayne E. Robinson, Jr., is clean and clear, and indeed quite watchable.
This production of Anna In The Tropics will be playing at Florida International University's Wertham Performing Arts Complex through October 15, 2006. The complex is located on the University Park Campus at 11200 SW 8th St. in Miami, Florida. This production is entered in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Show times for Anna In The Tropics are 8:00 PM Thursday - Sunday, and 2:00 PM on Sunday. For tickets, please call 305/ 348-3789. Information on the FIU Theatre's season may be obtained by phone at 305/ 348-2237, or on line at www.fiu.edu/~thedan.
*Indicates Student Designer