Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Anna in the Tropics
Also see Zander's review of Once on This Island
Taking place in 1929 in the Ybor City section of Tampa, Florida, Cruz brings us to a cigar factory. Justin Townsend's set includes several huge beams supporting the factory and the initial design features looming clouds in the background.
The aforementioned initial moment finds Eliades (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) barking out "Cockfights!" Two half brothers, not close ones, gamble wildly as Eliades runs the show and provides play-by-play. Santiago (Gilbert Cruz) owns the warehouse and bets poorly. Cheche (Alexis Cruz) is down on his luck and eventually reveals a violent side to his character. Ofelia (Bianca Camacho) is Santiago's wife and she is poised near the harbor for the arrival of a new lector, Juan Julian (Alex Rodriguez). Her attractive adult daughters accompany her. Conchita (Marina Pires) is the elegant, older sister while Marela (Gabriela Saker), perhaps in her early twenties, is bouncy and exuberant.
Juan Julian arrives and he is an appealing man who is fully taken with Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." The role of the lector back in that day was to interest, educate, and perhaps lend insight to others through prose and poetry. Juan Julian is dedicated and he delves into the Tolstoy which complements Nilo Cruz's plot and purpose.
Both sisters find Juan Julian magnetic. It is Marela who, with charm and some comedy, makes it evident that she will do anything to spend some time with him. Conchita, however, and Juan Julian fall for one another. It is a torrid coupling.
Then there's Palomo (Heredia in another role), married to Conchita and not the most faithful of men. He knows of his wife's affair with Juan Julian. Perhaps playwright Cruz is at his very best with the complex relationship he draws for Conchita and Paloma. True enough, Paloma is angry and temperamental. Yet he comes to understand Conchita's desire for Juan Julian. The dialogue here is singularly pensive and perceptive.
It's a multi-layered play staged within the literal and symbolic confines of the building. The women hand roll the cigars but machines are about to displace them. That stress feeds into the characters' overall anxiety and insecurity. The author's narrative is filled with tension. Some of his characters are more types than others. Cruz creates dramatic impact through internal shifts as well as outward action. The play has quieter moments but also loud musical ones. Sound designer Nathan Leigh's contributions are noteworthy. The journey feels lengthy from the time Eliades referees at the beginning of the show until an excerpt from "Anna Karenina" concludes this intricate and involving presentation.
Elena Araoz's direction is important and specific. Each performer (all are quite gifted) shines brightly with quite fine interpretation and timing. Heredia's name rings a bell–he was a much younger man when he won the Tony Award for his portrayal of cross-dressing Angel in the original cast of Rent. Just a few months back, this versatile actor gave a strong performance in Next to Normal at Westport Country Playhouse.
It takes some time to acclimate and assimilate both the story and the thematic intent of Anna in the Tropics since this is anything but a simplistic play. Instead, it challenges the theatergoer to grasp and stay with Cruz's dialogue as well as Tolstoy's language. Accomplishing that ensures a richly rewarding experience in the theater.
Anna in the Tropics runs through July 30, 2022, at Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield MA. For tickets and information, call 413-236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.