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08-Nov-2009
More than just a cigar

Everyone seems to have a piece of literature that changes their life forever. For the characters in the theater department's production of Anna in the Tropics, that book is Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina.

Playwright Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes place in Ybor City, Fla., in 1929 and follows the workers in a cigar factory. When owners Santiago (Greg Twomey) and Ofelia (Amanda Celine Miller) hire a new lector to read to the workers as they roll cigars, tensions begin to flare.

The lector, Juan Julian (Thony Mena) reads the story of Anna Karenina, a Russian woman involved in a love affair. As he reads through the story, the women begin to dream of romance while the men feel threatened as they realize the inadequacies in their own love lives. The story offers the characters a mirror into their lives, one that shows the true nature of their being. A character points out that "what is happening in the novel is happening to us."

Santiago and Ofelia's eldest daughter Conchita (Ann Fraistat) and her husband Palomo (Jonathan Berenson) realize their marriage has been crumbling and that they no longer truly love each other. They also begin to comprehend the dangers - and allures - of affairs.

Conchita's younger sister Marela (Tonique Heaven) dreams of going to Russia and of being in love. Meanwhile, Santiago's brother Cheche (Scott Whalen) feels that there is no need for a lector and that Juan Julian is simply distracting the workers.

The play packs a lot of plot into roughly two hours, focusing on themes of love, deception, modernization and the importance of listening to each other. Is it truly important for the workers to hear stories while they roll cigars? Can they produce quality cigars without replacing workers with machines, or are they "stuck in time" as they follow tradition? What will the workers learn about themselves from this story? The characters explore themselves and each other, changing drastically as they make life-altering decisions in reaction to the book - often with extreme consequences.

The stage in the Clarice Smith Performing Art Center's Kogod Theatre is decorated authentically to fit the time period and locale. Wooden seats and tables fill a factory that smells of cigar smoke, with cigar leaves drying on the rafters. The stage juts out into the audience in a theater-in-the-round style, with seats on three sides. This allows for the actors to move naturally around the set, but it also has the downfall of forcing everyone, no matter where they sit, to stare at some of the actors' backs while they speak.

Director Jose Carrasquillo has made these characters real. As the workers compare their lives to those portrayed in Anna Karenina, tensions build and emotions flare. The use of pauses and silences are noticeable during these moments of tension (as well as to punctuate humor) and are often as powerful as the words themselves.

Anna in the Tropics has a lot to offer audiences - a great story following the lives of profound, interesting characters and twists that will change the way they see the world forever. Carrasquillo, along with the cast and crew, brings this story to life through humor, great acting, raw emotion and the occasional puff of a cigar.


Source: Diamondback Online