Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Anna in the Tropics" takes audiences back to a vanished era when cigars were rolled by hand and the factories hired lectors to read great literature to the workers.
The play, now running at Prospect Theater Project in Modesto, takes place in 1929 in Tampa, Fla., where a new lector inflames passions of Cuban-immigrant workers by reading Leo Tolstoy's 19th-century novel of adultery, "Anna Karenina."
It's a beautifully written show filled with interesting poetic allusions. One character compares the small moments of life to violet petals that can be collected and savored. Another likens her heart to a jumping seal. Others say they like the cold Russian setting of "Anna Karenina" because it makes them feel cooler while they do their work in the hot factory.
Everyone talks passionately about how the novel moves them. If you haven't read it, you'll want to after seeing this show.
David Narbona is dashing and impeccably dressed as new lector Juan Julian Rios. He immediately charms the factory owner's two daughters, who hang on his every word.
Young Marela, played with a refreshingly innocent demeanor by Veronica Espinoza, loves how the lector helps her dream of a more exciting life. Older sister Conchita, played in a restrained manner by Tori Scoles, sees him as a distraction from her loveless marriage.
Conchita's husband Paolo (a reserved Colton Dennis) and the factory owner's brother Cheche (an edgy Eric Watkins) view the lector with a mix of suspicion and disgust.
Before long, the passions move from the book to real life and everyone's lives begin to be turned upside down. It's unfortunate that Prospect's cast members never fully commit to the extreme emotions expressed in the play. They seem a bit awkward and uncomfortable in the more intense scenes, making it hard for the audience to get lost in the drama.
The cast seems more at ease with the lighter moments. Peter Stavrianoudakis and Elda Coleman nearly steal the show as the factory owner and his wife with their funny bickering and affectionate banter. They seem as if they really have been married for years.
Jack Souza, the director and set and lighting designer, creates an elegant, refined world for the show. The women wear dresses, hats and gloves and the men wear smartly pressed suits. It's a little odd that the only workers in the cigar factory seem to be the owner's family members, but Prospect has very limited space to work with.
The play makes for satisfying theater because of how much it packs into two hours. There is romance, comedy, tragedy and mini-history lessons in everything from the Indian origins of cigars to the consequences of industrialization.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313.
Anna in the Tropics
RATING: * * *
WHERE: Prospect Theater Project, 520 Scenic Drive, Modesto
WHEN: Through Dec. 9. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, including an intermission
|549-9341 or www.prospecttheaterproject.org|
* * * * Excellent; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor