The winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, Nilo Cruz's drama "Anna in the Tropics," centers on two sisters who compete for the affections of a handsome man in a cigar factory in Florida in 1929.
The man is a lector hired by the factory to read stories to the workers who roll the cigars (a real practice that went on for decades until workers were replaced by automation). The book he chooses to read is "Anna Karenina," Leo Tolstoy's torrid novel of adultery.
Prospect Theater Project in Modesto presents the play Nov. 16 through Dec. 9. Director Jack Souza said he chose the show because he liked the theme of the transformational power of art.
"Reading 'Anna Karenina' has given these people a means of understanding themselves," he said, explaining that it gives them a way to articulate their own longings. "That is the most beautiful expression of art."
The play moves between the two worlds of Florida and Russia, with the factory workers' story paralleling the novel's tale. The dialogue is written in a heightened, poetic style.
"Some of the main conflict is between the idealistic part of life versus the purely pragmatic," Souza said.
David Narbona, who stars as the lector, said he initially wanted to be in the production because he wanted a chance to work at Prospect Theater again. As he got into the play, he enjoyed uncovering its layers.
"The more we work on it, there's humor, there is romance, there is what I call amorous passion, but also misguided passion in it," he said. "It's very poetic, but not in a stuffy way. It's playful in a way."
Narbona said it has been interesting to learn about Cuban culture and the cigar industry, which goes back hundreds of years to the Indians. Smoke represents the communication with the gods. But he said the play never gets too heavy and stays rooted in common experiences everyone can relate to.
"I think the audience will be touched by one character or the other, with all the emotions and relationships broken relationships, broken marriages, strong marriages that have lasted over the years and the rediscovery of oneself," Narbona said.
This is the second time the play has been staged in the region. Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora presented the production in 2008.
WHAT: Prospect Theater Project's "Anna in the Tropics"
WHEN: Nov. 16-Dec. 9
WHERE: Prospect Theater Project, 520 Scenic Drive, Modesto
CALL: (209) 549-9341