Introducing “Anna in the Tropics”

There is a reason why Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics beat critically acclaimed plays like Edward Albee’s The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia, and Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out for the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 2003, despite it never appearing in New York – and when you come see it, you’ll see why too.

Set in 1929 in Tampa (Ybor City), Florida, Nilo Cruz takes us to a classic Cuban­-American cigar factory where machines have yet to replace workers in a rapidly mechanizing industry. The arrival of a new lector, Juan Julian, a well-­dressed and well­-spoken gentleman, is a cause for excitement and celebration, but when he begins to read aloud from Anna Karenina, he unwittingly becomes a catalyst in the lives of his avid listeners, for whom Tolstoy, the tropics, and the American dream prove a volatile combination.

Two elements that make Anna in the Tropics not only an exemplary play, but also a stunning piece of literature are Cruz’s poetry and his ability to tap into universal themes through passion and heightened drama.

“I already knew how beautiful and poetic this play was from the first time around,” says Armando Rey, a Los Angeles based professional film, television and theater actor, who is making his North Bay debut at 6th Street Playhouse. This is Armando’s second time acting in Anna in the Tropics. First cast as the antagonist Cheche (played in our production by Jared Wright), he now fills the shoes of the play’s romantic protagonist, the lector Juan Julian. Rey comments: “Now that I’m playing Juan Julian I get to experience the beautiful poetry in his dialog and his passion for romance and discovery. I already knew it was there of course [as Cheche], but this time around I get to taste it every time I speak as Juan Julian.”

A lector reads in a Cuban cigar factory

Moreover, Cruz’s exquisite poetry transcends decadent form to also encompass themes ubiquitous in nature. Despite the setting taking place in 1929 in a traditional Cuban cigar factory in Florida, these are themes and motifs we all identify with and experience, and better yet, seem grander – more passionate, and meld to form a sobering reminder of our own vulnerabilities.

Dan Villalva, returning to the stage to play Santiago after a 30 year acting hiatus writes: “I hope audiences take away its timeless theme – that the real things of value –  love, family, friendship are what endure long after the money is gone.”

Indeed, Cruz grapples with several dichotomies that lay just beneath the surface of our daily interactions. Kathleen Pizzo-St. John, who is also making her debut at 6th Street and who plays the young dreamer, Marela, notes a few of these conflicts:  “Tradition vs. progress, cynicism vs. idealism. Male perspective vs. female perspective, especially in regards to love.”

She adds: “But I think this play is important to produce because the lessons we learned from Tolstoy, who was so articulate in expressing both the beauty and ugliness of humanity and our relationships with one another, are reemphasized in a new way by Nilo Cruz. Essentially what I’m trying to say is that it is refreshing that this production doesn’t glamorize or demonize its characters and relationships – it just tells the truth.”

Photo by Eric Chazankin, Pictured: Armando Rey as Juan Julian and Bronwen Shears as Conchita

For a more complete inside interview with the actors check out our next blog scheduled to post on Thursday, March 10th! 

Anna in the Tropics runs March 11th – March 26th on the GK Hardt Stage. Tickets are available on our website or by calling 707-523-4185.

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