Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anna in the Tropics at Burien Little Theatre

reviewed by Alec Clayton

We braved rare tropical Northwestern heat on one of the hottest days of summer to see Anna in the Tropics at Burien Little Theatre, and the play sizzled like the sun bearing down on the parking lot outside. Thank you, BLT, for air conditioning, and thank you, Director Roy Arauz and cast for an engaging summer afternoon.

Anna in the Tropics is a co-production of BLT and Latino Theatre Projects.

Written by Nilo Cruz, it was a 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner. The story takes place in a Cuban-immigrant, family-owned cigar factory in an old warehouse in Ybor City, Tampa, Fl., in 1929.

Santiago (Fernando Luna) is the patriarch of the family, but like many a family no matter the culture, it is his wife, Ofelia (Eloisa Cardona), who keeps the family united and functioning. Their daughters Marela (Idalia Limón) and Conchita (Maria Knox), and Conchita’s husband, Palomo (Erwin Galán) all work in the factory. They keep the tradition to bring lectors in to read to the workers in the factory while they hand-roll cigars. The new lector, Juan Julian (Gabriel Sedgemore) chooses to read from Anna Karenina, and the workers especially the women are intrigued with the story and find many parallels in their own life. Stories of familial conflicts, loves, and infidelities emerge along with a bitter fight over modernizing the factory. Santiago’s half-brother, Cheché (Jason Pead) wants to bring in mechanized cigar rolling and do away with the lector, but most of the family wants to cling to the old ways.

It’s a fascinating and emotionally charged story well acted by a cast balanced with new and experienced actors, all of whom are part of the Latino Theatre Project.  Mireya Beltre, who plays factory worker Eliades, is a native of the Dominican Republic, Cardona is Latina and Asian, Limón and Luna hail from Mexico; the others do not list their countries of origin.

The play opens with a pair of alternating and beautifully stylized set pieces. Stage right: Santiago and Cheché are betting on a cock fight; stage left: Ofelia, Conchita and Marela are excitedly waiting on the arrival of the ship bringing the new lector. In these alternating scenes the personalities of the various characters come to light and the audience is given clues about what is to come. We see that Santiago is a good man but perhaps naïve and easily manipulated and that Cheché is passionate and strong willed; we see that both sisters are dreamy and romantic, that Marela is excitable and loving, and probably easily hurt, that Conchita is the more even tempered and level-headed older sister, and Ofelia is the glue that holds them all together, but she is not so rock steady that she doesn’t have passions and dreams of her own.
There is some very accomplished acting going on here, especially on the parts of Pead, Luna and Cardona. And Limón’s bubbly personality is infectious. Since Conchita is very reserved at first, Knox’s acting seems almost too restrained, but she allows her passions to gradually emerge as she fights with her husband and as we see her making love (tastefully but passionately) first with her lover and then with her husband. My one complaint is that even though the love scenes were well acted and coyly kept in the dark, Knox could have shown more fire; there needs to be more electricity between the lovers.
The set design by Steve Cooper is simple but highly effective and Addie Keller’s costuming looks authentic. The saddle oxfords were a particularly nice touch.

It’s easy to see why Anna in the Tropics won a Pulitzer, and this company does it well. It is well worth the drive from Seattle or Tacoma. We drove all the way from Olympia and were glad we did.

WHERE: Burien Little Theatre, 14501 4th Ave. SW, Burien
WHEN: Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. through Aug. 26

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