Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Anna in the Tropics, opens at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
By: Patrick Christiano
July 6, 2022: Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor is on-a-roll. Their second production of the Mainstage Summer Season, Nilo Cruz’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Anna in the Tropics, is another winner, and yet decidedly different from the absurd comedy they offered last. Anna is an intoxicating tale of love, lust, and dreams, with Chekhovian overtones. The Anna in the play’s title refers to another Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, who wrote “Anna Karenina.” Cruz’s language is hauntingly lyrical and the staging by Marcos Santana highlights the poetry of his writing exquisitely.
Set in a Tampa, Florida cigar factor in 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression, the drama is built around the almost forgotten profession of a lector, someone who entertains the workers by reading to them as they perform the repetitive task of rolling perfect cigars by hand. Cruz skillfully uses Juan Julian, the exotic lector (Anthony Michael Martinez), as a catalyst for the unfolding action. The new lector’s anticipated arrival is already causing ripples of conflict. Then, when Juan Julian shows up, dashingly dressed all in white, his polished presence further arouses passions. And when he reads Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina” with a smoldering seductive voice, he fans the already simmering flames and ignites new desires.
The lector introduces them to an exciting new world, and the drama looks at the ways Tolstoy’s great novel mirrors and, ultimately shapes the lives of these relatively simple and uneducated people. The play’s conflicts of fantasy versus reality and tradition versus progress, cleverly reflect the struggles of Tolstoy’s characters in “Anna Karenina.”
Santiago (Serafin Falcon) is the humble owner of the cigar factory with a love for drinking and gambling. His long-suffering wife, Ofelia (Iliana Guibert), bickers with him constantly, but loves him and is content with their life. Their daughters are less content and dream of possibilities. Conchita (Christine Spang) has an unfaithful husband, Palomo (Guillermo Ivan). She has accepted her situation, but longs for a lover of her own, while her sister Marela (Maria Isabel Bilbao), a virgin, dreams of an idealistic love. Yearning, as in Chekov, is a condition for them.
Rounding out the characters is CheChe (Christian Barillas), Santiago’s half-brother, whose wife ran away with the previous lector. His resentments and frustrations fuel the escalating tensions. He feels it is time to do away with the lectors, He is for progress and wants to install machines to roll the cigars.
The intimate set design by Luciana Stecconi, simple and bold, could not be more perfect. We, the audience, feel as if we there, in the factory, with them.
An interesting note, Marcos Santana, the director, chose the actors with authenticity in mind, resulting in an all-Latin American cast of mostly Cuban American actors. They serve the play and the playwright’s lyrical language beautifully.
The evening, a testament to the powers of art, is a rare opportunity to see a Pulitzer Prize winning drama, in an intimate setting served by a consummate cast.
Anna in the Tropics
Runs through July 24, 2022
Bay Street Sag Harbor, Corner of Bay St. and Main St. Downtown Sag Harbor
Box Office: 631-725-9500 Photos: Lenny Stucker For Tickets Click Here
Click Here for Opening Night Photos of Anna in the Tropics by Barry Gordin