Richard Hamburger

‘Anna in the Tropics’ stokes fiery passion in Dallas show

By Mark Lowry / Star-Telegram

It’s interesting that Nilo Cruz chose Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as the novel for the lector in his Pulitzer-winning play Anna in the Tropics to read to Cuban cigar factory workers in Tampa. Snowy Russia is worlds away from humid Florida.

“There’s nothing like reading a winter book in the middle of summer,” one character notes.

That polarity of iciness and heat infuses Cruz’s script, but a play is merely words until it’s staged, and this one has found a perfect match in Dallas Theater Center director Richard Hamburger.

The play’s rhythm is leisurely, like enjoying a good cigar, but that doesn’t mean the staging should be. Hamburger effortlessly avoids this throughout, from the central set piece of a long cigar-rolling table that rotates to different angles (Christopher Barreca’s fiery scenic design is gorgeous), to the caffeinated performances of some of the actors, mainly Javi Mulero as the internally raging Cheché.

The play mirrors Tolstoy’s novel, read to the workers by lector Juan Julian (Al Espinosa). He’s a beautiful man, but it’s his eloquent reading of Anna Karenina that ignites a fire in three female workers.

The beauty of using Anna Karenina to kindle the action is that the literature effortlessly takes care of that awkward business of chemistry between lovers.

The ensemble is first-rate, but it’s Hamburger’s confidence in sublimely pulling disparate emotions together that make Anna so steamy.

Bring a fan.


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