Richard Hamburger

REVIEW: Anna in the Tropics

By Camika Spencer /

Set in 1929 Florida, Anna in the Tropics is a searing and visually obsessing, Pulitzer Prize winnning stage play, written by Nilo Cruz, about a Cuban-American family-run cigar business that is struggling not to crumble under big business by keeping things simple and uncomplicated. Yet, their personal lives are anything but.

Here, men gamble as hard as they claim to love, the women dream of perfect husbands and capable lovers, cigars are still rolled by hand, and lectors are hired to educate and entertain the workers by reading aloud to them, thus there’s a lot of romaticizing going on. It’s the primitive, yet sacred way of the cigar industry. The current lector has died of old age, so a new lector is sent for. This is where Anna in the Tropics begins and from here, one may find him or herself sucked in by the magnetic and strong gut sampling of emotions that emit from lyrically clever dialogue and intense acting.

Never a dull moment from the time the new lector, Juan Julian, (played by Al Espinosa) arrives with a copy of the classic Tolstoy tale, Anna Karenina, a tale of love, betrayal and redemption, the workers begin to engaged themselves in behavior straight from the pages creating an atmosphere not always suitable for the eyes of an immature adult.

Conchita, (played by Jacqueline Duprey) is the central character. Worn down by the faded love of her husband and over inoculated with love stories read by the lectors, Conchita finds herself dreamily hanging on to the idea of a love affair, even at times, reciting sentences verbatim. However, bound by her own timidity and marriage vows, Conchita only dreams until the new lector arrives and gives her more tempting reasons to bite the proverbial apple in hopes of bringing love back into her own lifeless marriage. Her sister, Marela (Adriana Gaviria) is more rebellious, outspoken, and poetically moved, Marela too dreams, but she dreams in color. So much so that she’s placed a spell on the expected new lector by placing his name on a piece of paper and placing in a glass of water, brown sugar and cinnamon to make him sweet and pleasant on the eyes upon arrival - and he is. She also is the impetus pushing to get her older sister to sample the lector, because if Conchita doesn’t, then Marela would be happy to. Their mother, Ofelia, committed to the old school way of doing things, sees the benefits in a lector and comes out of her own pockets to make sure the factory gets one this time that isn’t as antiquates as the books being read. Then, in walks Juan Julian, the new lector, and he’s hot with stunning dark features reminiscent of Gable. The women swoon, the men get jealous and guns get involved. As the romantic lead, Al Espinosa as Julian is desirable and his suave and patience approach to the role, make Anna in the Tropics damned near edge of the seat entertainment.

Duprey, Espinosa and cast present an excellent canvas for Anna… and without going too far into accolades, do a superb job of making one believe in what is happening on the stage. With a supporting cast that consists of Cheché (Javi Mulero), a mindless and greedy half-brother with bitter intentions to modernize the cigar factory and makes sour advances on Marela, Santiago (Apollo Dukakis), the patriarch with a penchant for biting off more than he can chew at the cock fights, and Palomo (Timothy Paul Perez), who is Ophelia’s thoughtless husband until the tables are turned on him, there is no turning back once these seven people take the stage. They reveal any playwright’s natural dreams of seeing their words appreciated through acting.

The set and lighting are other “worth-mentionings” about Anna in the Tropics at the Dallas Theater Center. The highly intelligent workings of Christopher Barreca (scene) and Peter Mauldin (lighting) will probably be contenders for awards in 2005.

Anna in the Tropics runs through October 3 at the Dallas Theater Center. It’s worth the asking price. For more information, call the box office at 214-522-8499.

© Richard Hamburger, Theater Director      Site design and maintenance by Amy Lacy.