Tolstoy changes cigar workers’ lives in Cap Rep play

There isn’t much about the Capital Repertory Theatre production of “Anna in the Tropics” that doesn’

There isn’t much about the Capital Repertory Theatre production of “Anna in the Tropics” that doesn’t strongly resonate with Clea Rivera, and that includes wardrobe.

“We’re in Florida and it’s set during the summer, so we get to use some fantastic clothes,” said Rivera, who plays Conchita in Nilo Cruz’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, beginning tonight at 8 with previews and officially opening next Wednesday at 7:30. “It’s great fun to put on these wonderful party dresses. The costumes are absolutely beautiful.”

Cap Rep costume designer Thom Heyer can take a bow for the wardrobe, but when it comes to the substance of the play, it’s Cruz’s writing and that of Russian great Leo Tolstoy that steals the show. “Anna in the Tropics” is set in 1929 in a Cuban-American cigar factory where “lectors” were employed to read aloud to the workers during their shift.

‘Anna in the Tropics’

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl St., Albany

WHEN: Previews at 8 tonight, 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; opens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and runs through Nov. 23.

HOW MUCH: $44-$27

MORE INFO: 581-7469

Juan Julian, played by Alvaro Mendoza, is the lector who introduces Clea and her co-workers to one of Tolstoy’s greatest works, “Anna Karenina,” and for many the book changes their outlook on life.


“My character kind of rediscovers herself through this novel and the lector reading it,” said Rivera. “Because of this great work of literature, she goes through this self-discovery, as do a lot of the characters. It’s a transformation and it’s a very powerful one.”

Joining Rivera and Mendoza in the cast are Devon Jordan as Marela, Louie Leonardo as Cheche, Luis Moreno as Palomo, Jose Ramon Rosario as Santiago and Elise Santoro as Ofelia. Cap Rep producing artistic director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill is directing.

“I love it when great literature is interpreted in an exciting way for the stage,” said Mancinelli-Cahill, explaining her decision to add “Anna in the Tropics” to the Cap Rep season. “Cruz won a Pulitzer [Prize] for bringing this Tolstoy novel to life, and while it’s a very famous book I don’t think it’s on everyone’s tongue. It’s not a best-seller, but it’s a wonderful story, and the play is about all these relationships that get transformed by this book in this Florida cigar factory. The thing kind of snowballs. One relationship changes, and then that changes another.”

Along with Tolstoy, Conchita is the major change agent in the play. She is trapped in a passionless marriage and it is her reaction to “Anna Karenina” that dominates the show’s theme.

“I was really drawn to the play and the part of Conchita,” said Rivera. “She’s in a difficult relationship with her husband and it’s rather frustrating for her. But this novel inspires her and gets her thinking. I had actually not read the book before but I did after I got this part and it’s just a wonderful piece of literature.”

Discovering acting

Rivera was born in New Jersey and grew up in New York City, where she now lives. She was bitten by the acting bug at the age of 13 when she played the lead in a community theater production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I was a very shy kid, and when I found that part I felt like I found myself,” said Rivera, who went to a performing arts high school in New York and than majored in acting at SUNY-Purchase.

She also began writing poetry and short stories at a young age and has performed her own one-woman show, “Food of Life,” at various venues in and around New York.

“It’s about a French chef, and it’s about life, love and art,” said Rivera. “She’s in town to do a cooking show and none of the ingredients show up, so she’s caught in an absurd situation. She starts talking about her recipes and in the process some of the food becomes metaphors for certain aspects of her life. It was a lot of fun to do and I really enjoy writing. I like them both, writing and acting, and I hope to do continue to do more of both.”

Mendoza, a native of Madrid, Spain, has appeared in numerous Shakespearean productions around the country, including the American Shakespeare Center, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, The Shakespeare Theatre, the Aquila Theatre Company, and the North Shore Music Theatre. Now 35, Mendoza came to the U.S. when he was 19 and studied English at Williams College.

“I think ‘Anna Karenina’ is an incredible novel, one of the best ever written, and any kind of work that rests on that is very interesting to me,” said Mendoza. “One of the things I love about the play is what it says about life, and how things are much more random and chaotic than we dare to see. When you’re confronted with a great work of art, and you look at life in concentrated doses, you have to become engaged on a deeper, more real level. The novel certainly does that to you, and so does the play.”

“It’s a wonderful collision of culture, literature and sensuality,” said Mancinelli-Cahill. “It was on my radar when I saw it move toward Broadway, and then it won the Pulitzer. I knew we needed the right casting and the right timing, and it ended up being now.”

Adult themes

Mancinelli-Cahill said the play has its adult themes and parents should think twice before bringing their teenage children along.

“It’s not a lot scarier than what 13-year-olds see on TV these days with everything being blown up, but this is a play about adult relationships and there is a sensuality to it,” she said. “I would err on the side of caution and not bring children, but at the same time I think it’d be great for parents to bring their teenagers. They just have to know themselves and their kids.”

“It gets a little steamy,” said Mendoza.

“There’s a paisley party dress I wear that’s just beautiful,” said Rivera.

Categories: Life and Arts

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