BWW Review: Tallahassee Hispanic Theater's ANNA IN THE TROPICS A Literary, Emotional Wonder
Rolling words like paper, Anna in the Tropics is an exercise in literature, love, loss through Ybor City's Cuban population of 1929. As the inaugural event for the Tallahassee Hispanic Theater, director Kevin Carr and actor/president Alejandra Guttierez present a turbulent tale of romance in an excellent, poetic first production for the up-and-coming theatre company.
Anna in the Tropics paints a portrait of the ill-known Cuban cigar rolling times of Tampa in the 1930s, when the rollers would hire a lector to read passages of the Bible or novels. Ofelia and her daughters bring to their cigar factory the 'Persian canary' Juan Julian, a lectore who begins to read them Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The novel's love plots and philosophies breach into the factory, slowly turning the monotony into passions- both love and hate.
Carr's directorial choices work well, focusing on the strength of performance and script. Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize winning play is an exercise in heavy lifting for his actresses, the focal point of the production instead of revolving around the lovers. In this focus, Carr empowers the female choice, layering into Anna Karenina, certainly making his production a local undercurrent masterpiece.
Alejandra Gutierrez, as Conchita, delivers captivating pain, drama, tension. In the opening trio, she feels a French Romantic heroine, muted but full of censored ideas. Watching her growth, through the poetic literature of love and discovery of herself as a woman, gives her performance an air of the fantastic. As a leading figure, she remains hidden in larger scenes until she is alone with another intimate performer, where she unleashes her mind. Gutierrez is a showstopper, a captivating form who tears at emotional strings in her final scene in the first act. In Gutierrez, Anna is found.
The lectore Juan Julian, played by Mickey Clickner, spills words and poetry over the audience in silken bursts. He embodies the romantic character, glistening eyes as Tolstoy infects the cigar factory. His chemistry, with Gutierrez and Anita Miller's Ofelia, transfigure- he moves with the grace of a writer and emotes with the pain of a forgone lover.
Conchita's husband Palomo, a restrained Brian Walker, provides much discourse on male fragility and intimacy. Through his tribulations with Gutierrez, Anna in the Tropics finds its most tense discussions. Carr's casting is impeccable, the bond between the married couple presents tension that a knife couldn't cut.
The entire supporting cast presents compelling snapshots of Ybor's city's populace- Miller's Ofelia is both adorable and respectable, until her hilarious drunken ramblings towards the show's close. Her husband Santiago, played by Victor Duncan, is a riot in his frustrations. Their daughter Marela, a flamboyant Gabrielle Arias, shows the darker side of the female experience in a performance that becomes more riveting than laughable as she dedicates speeches to life's romantic sides.
Technical work in Goodwood can be minimal at best, with only sound and costuming up for discussion. Michele Belson's costuming is smart, simple, and utilitarian for the movement of time in Anna in the Tropics. Laura Chan's authentic sound choice, in both music and effects, are useful until they become a step beyond ironic- following some of the tensest scenes, the music bursts on quickly in a tone that seems to almost poke fun at the hardships audiences just endured.
For an inaugural production Tallahassee Hispanic Theater couldn't have found a Russian tome more timeless. Carr's Anna in the Tropics overwhelms in delight that simply cannot be denied, through exquisitely emotional performance and a literary script that dashes Cuban-American culture into the canon.
Anna in the Tropics plays at Goodwood Museum and Gardens from Feb. 1-9. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.