In reading some pre-show descriptions of Capital Repertory Theatre’s current production of Nilo Cruz’s “Anna in the Tropics,” I thought how odd it seemed to be pairing Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” with characters in a 1929 Florida cigar factory. Not odd at all. In fact, the pairing makes for beautiful harmonies. Directed with deep understanding by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the show blends the two stories perfectly.
The play is set in a Cuban-American cigar factory where cigars are still rolled by hand and “lectors” are employed to read literature aloud to the workers. Their work is tedious, and the bunchers, stuffers, wrappers and rollers are transported by the classic stories from the boredom and heat of the factory.
In this particular factory, owned by Santiago (Jose Ramon Rosario) and his wife, Ofelia (Elise Santora), a new lector has been hired after the old (very old) lector has passed away. The new man, Juan Julian (Alavaro Mendoza) is young and virile and reads “Anna Karenina” as his first outing. The story and the story-teller excite the passions of Santiago’s daughters, Marela (Devon Jordan) and Conchita (Clea Rivera) who are both employed as rollers. Conchita, a romantic married to Palomo (Luis Moreno), a realist who is also employed at the factory, falls in love with Juan—or at least realizes an intensity of emotion for him that she has not known for a long time.
Her husband, after all, is having an affair with another woman. What appears at first to be a sub-plot is the hatred Santiago’s half brother Cheche (Louie Leonardo) feels for lectors in general because his wife ran off with one.
This is no adaptation, to be sure, but the text of this remarkable Pulitzer Prize-winner is so tight and so literate that one can easily shift from a remembrance of Tolstoy’s masterwork to Cruz’s.
The acting is superb. Mendoza plays the lector with style and elegance and a clear grasp of his enchanting function. Rivera is heart-touching as a woman lost, who blossoms under the lector’s ministrations. Jordan plays Marela with youthful joy, and Santora has many remarkable, comic and tragic moments.
Rosario is dashing as the owner of the factory who allows the weight of his responsibilities to cow him until he finally realizes his power. Moreno plays the offending husband with the right amount of grit and guilt and Leonardo takes on the sleazy relative with skill.
Kathryn Kawecki, scenic designer, has done everything right in creating the abstraction of the play’s poetry. Costumes by Tom Heyer are period and picture perfect. Deborah Constantine’s lighting offers a gorgeous tropic moon and so many other lovely effects, and sound by Steve Stevens pays attention to both the rags and tangos and hip-swinging Latin tunes of the Prohibition era.
Do not miss this remarkable show.
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Through November 23
HOW MUCH: $44-$27
MORE INFO: 445-7469