Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Anna in the Tropics
6th Street Playhouse
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Wait Until Dark and Richard's recent reviews of Emily Skinner: Broadway, Her Way, Fool for Love and The Call

Bronwen Shears, Armando Rey, Kathleen Pizzo-St. John, and
Laura Sottile

Photo by Eric Chazankin
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Though Anna in the Tropics is set in 1929, in Ybor City, a neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, the challenges faced by the characters in Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning play are as timeless and contemporary as any to be found in the works of Homer, Shakespeare, or—most fittingly—Tolstoy, for it is his "Anna Karenina" that gives the play its title. Despite its somewhat antique setting, Cruz's characters are absorbed in love, envy, jealousy and desire—all while dealing with a wave of modernity that threatens to wash away their livelihood and their dreams.

The action takes place in the cigar factory of Santiago (Dan Villalva)—gorgeously rendered by scenic designer Jesse Dreikosen, with appropriately smoky windows and tables piled high with tobacco leaves. At the center of it all is a platform on which is placed a throne of sorts, upon which sits the lector, the finely dressed and well-spoken man who traditionally reads to the workers as they spend the sweltering days rolling cigars. That is, once the new lector arrives, as the previous man who held the position ran off with the wife of Cheche (Jared Wright), Santiago's half-brother, and possibly half-owner of the factory, if Santiago can't come up with the money to repay Cheche what he borrowed and subsequently lost gambling on cockfights.

The new lector, Juan Julian (Armando Rey), does arrive, bringing with him a pile of books. He suggests "Anna Karenina," and the women in the factory—who include Conchita (Bronwen Shears) and Marela (Kathleen Pizzo-St. John), the daughters of Santiago and his wife, Ofelia (Laura Sottile)—subsequently agree. Marela thinks the love story would be an exceptionally good choice for Cheche. But Marela is young, a girl really, and her judgment is misplaced, as the action in act two will prove.

Director Marty Pistone keeps the pace moving, and he has assembled an excellent cast. Except for Pizzo-St. John, who tends at times to rush her lines, everyone seems to have a handle on the poetry of Cruz's dialogue. But special note must be given to Laura Sottile, who gives an absolutely marvelous performance as Ofelia, the matriarch of the family. There is never a moment when you see her working at her craft: physically and vocally she is as balanced and slow-burning as a Montecristo No. 2. Her chemistry with Villalva is natural and nuanced, and when passion is required, she deals it out such that no one can refuse her.

Lighting designer April George has beautifully illuminated Dreikosen's set, lovingly evoking the atmosphere of what must have been literal sweatshops, and the costumes by Gail Reine seem right in line with the culture and time period.

Though the setup in act one is a little languid, once the match is struck in act two and the ambitions and romantic assignations bubble to the surface, the pace and heat level rise accordingly, building to a shocking—but entirely plausible, even expected—conclusion.

Anna in the Tropics runs through March 26, 2016, in the G.K. Hardt Theater at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $32 general admission, $27 seniors and youth Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinees, and $25 general, $20 for seniors and youth on Thursdays and Saturday matinees. There is no performance on March 27. Tickets are available online at, by calling the box office at (707) 523-4185 or during open Box Office hours.

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