The Jungle Theater's 2017 season recently kicked off with Anna in the Tropics. This Pulitzer Prize wining play by Nilo Cruz focuses on a Cuban American family, and transports the audience into their life in 1920s Tampa, Florida and into the cigar factory that they own. The play starts with the arrival of a new lector, someone who traditionally read stories to the workers in the cigar factories for the purpose of education, entertainment and most of all distraction. This newly arrived lector, Juan Julian (Juan Rivera Lebron), decides to read Anna Karenina, and as passages from the book are read aloud it seems the more the time passes the more the passages reflect the family's life and drama.
I love listening to stories (I'm a fan of audio-books), and as I heard another audience member say during intermission, "this feels like I'm listening to an audio-book". Lebron as the lector Juan Julian reads the passages from Anna Karenina beautifully but it was the words and delivery of all the other characters which made the the play feel like it was on a more literary plane. Marela, the youngest daughter of the family is full of positivity and dreams, she was performed with great innocence and enthusiasm by Christina Florencia Castro. I felt like I was taking this trip back in time with her and she was my very excited tour guide.
The sets at the Jungle always blow me a way, and this set by Andrea Heilman is no exception. The simplicity of this set allows the beauty of it to shine through. The walls of the cigar factory are lined with pages from old books, and they rotate open and closed like blinds to let the Tampa light to come shining in along with the story.
Although I felt entirely transported by the play, by the end I felt that it had bitten off a bit too much conflict to chew in the two hours that it occupied the stage. There was conflict about gambling, love affairs, whether or not to modernize the factory, the importance of a lector, and other twists and turns that I couldn't list without spoiling the plot. Because of this when the lights came up at the end of the show I couldn't help but feel a bit unsatisfied, there were too many things hanging in the air that hadn't been addressed.
Anna in the Tropics will transport you to steamy Tampa, Florida and will remind you of the importance of stories and their transformative properties.
Anna in the Tropics is playing at the Jungle Theater until March 12th.
*Photo: Al Clemente Saks (Santiago), Cristina Florencia Castro (Marela) and Adlyn Carreras (Ofelia) PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Norman