Anna in the Tropics, presented by PCPA.

Shows through July 15 at the Marian Theatre in Santa
Maria, then at the Solvang Festival Theatre from July 21 through
August 6.

Reviewed by Bojana Hill

When he was writing Anna in the Tropics, said
Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, he “just loved the notion of
illiterate cigar-rollers quoting Don Quixote and
Shakespeare by heart. This play is about the need for culture, the
need for literature. Art should be dangerous.” Anyone who
watches the wonderful new production of Anna in the
at PCPA will feel that Cruz is right about this
danger. Literature does have the power to unleash secret longings,
and can even unsettle the status quo.

Anna is based partly on Tolstoy’s Anna
, and is set in 1929 in a small town near Tampa,
Florida, where the Cuban family Alcalar runs a cigar factory. The
first scene immediately suggests a polarity. On one side of the
stage, the beautiful, elegant Alcalar women are eagerly awaiting
the arrival of a “lector,” while drunken men brawl and gamble on
cock-fights at the opposite side. The appearance of the dashing,
handsome Juan Julian with his white linen suit and courteous manner
causes young Marela Alcalar to … well, you’ll have to see the play
to find out about Marela’s embarrassment. From then on, Juan
occupies the center of the family’s life, literally and
metaphorically. As tradition requires, the cigar workers’
monotonous tasks are enlivened during hot and humid days by
listening to “el lector” read poetry, news, or literature with
“feeling and gusto.” Seated on his raised platform, the lector is a
crucial connection to the larger world. But when Juan Julian begins
to read Anna Karenina, he unknowingly becomes the catalyst
for change in the lives of the Alcalar family. The romantic story
of illicit love between Anna Karenina and Vronsky inspires
passionate yearnings and dreams of exotic, faraway Russia. Marela
becomes infatuated with Juan, but it is Conchita, the older,
married Alcalar daughter, who consummates the relationship with
him. The first act ends with a sensuous seduction scene that
closely parallels the novel.

The second act fulfills the ominous forebodings, as expected. If
the plot is predictable, the drama of the characters’ lives is no
less real and poignant. The play’s tragic ending brings a sense of
loss — not only of hopes, dreams, and life, but also of an era.
Soon the manual cigar-rollers will be replaced by machines whose
humming will in turn replace the lector’s velvety voice. The entire
cast is excellent, particularly the female actors. Clad in
beautifully designed period pieces, the three Alcalar women are
portrayed with nuances necessary to express their rich and complex


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