A well-executed, thoroughly enjoyable production of Anna in the Tropics, directed by Kevin Carr, premiered on February 1st at Goodwood Museum. The tragic love story set in prohibition era Tampa mirrors the plot of Anna Karenina, a novel read through the piece. There is a lot to enjoy about how the vibrant cast brings it all together. With GoodWood Museum Carriage House’s historic, completely wooden interior venue, the experience was even more immersive for the sake of including the audience as the fellow cigar factory workers. As their first full length project, Tallahassee Historic Theater has earned their spot in the local theatre community as a formidable competitor.
The story revolves around a scandalous love affair between the smooth Juan Julian and passionate Conchita. Juan reads Anna Karenina, a Russian romance he inspires the other workers to expand their minds, going as far to seduce Conchita with his literature. The Pulitzer Prize winning script by Nilo Cruz is poetic, biting, truthful, optimistic, and sarcastic all at the same time. Literature buffs will be pleasantly surprised with the variety of social inquiry the play handles, from the early automation of cigar factories replacing the traditions of hand- rolled Cuban Cigars, and the modern topic of open infidelity in traditional marriages.
Dr. Alejandra Guttierez embodies the role of Conchita, bringing to life the passion and self-determination of a young Cuban immigrant. She does great justice in the portrayal of the rebellious and vulnerable lover Conchita. It’s a pleasure to see her deliver the fiery monologues, the intimate confessions, as the show plays on. The piece truly shines when both Conchita and Juan are alone on stage, creating magnetic tension with stimulating dialogue about Anna Karenina.
Mickey Clickner plays Juan Julio, a lectore for the workers in the cigar factory. As a lectore he upholds a tradition of reading stories to captivate the workers and make the task of rolling cigars less tedious. Clickner delivers passages of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with smooth passion, and his words melt into the hearts of most of the factory workers. The chemistry Clickner creates through magnetic eye contact with Conchita and a silver tongue, as he delivers grand, and cerebral monologues that challenge the mindsets of the workers.
Palomo, Conchita’s husband, is played by Brian Walker, who is moved by Anna Karenina the lectore reads as well. Walker portrays the traditionally simple, yet wholesome, husband who yearns to understand the nature of why his wife would be having an affair. Scenes where he tries to educate himself are tense and gripping; it’s interesting to see how Walker delivers feeling of resistance, as well sentiments imbibed with conscious understanding throughout the show.
The supporting cast of Ofelia, the eccentric Cuban mother of Conchita and Marela, is brought to life through the phenomenal Anita Payne Miller. Miller delivers the playful mannerisms, thick accent, and jovial, but also no excuses, tone reminiscent of a true Cuban grandmother. One moment, she is playfully flirting with Juan Julio, and the next, she is vehemently scolding and defending her family’s way of life as cigar rollers from the treacherous Cheche (played by Mike Herrin). Gabriella Arias plays Marcela, who starts the play as a stereotypical naïve youth infatuated with the ideals of romance, but then changes her flamboyant attitude toward love after an emotionally crippling experience. Santiago, Ofelia’s husband, played by Victor Duncan, entertains with his opening drunken antics, lifting spirits with his enthusiastic change of heart after digesting Anna Karenina.
The technical aspects were simple and minimal, a clever directorial move by Carr, allowing the play to be set in the factory the duration with minimal movement through wise placement of props and furniture for next scene. The costuming by Michele Belson was appropriate, considering the time period, and aesthetically pleasing against contrast of the wooden Carriage house. The sound design, by Laura Chanmay, may seemed exaggerated in choice of the classic Cubano music one hears in travel promotions, but remains authentically Cuban throughout.
As the premiere production of Tallahassee Hispanic Theater, Anna in the Tropics is an apt choice for the rich Hispanic culture of Florida. The play uses Anna Karenina, a story of classic rebellion, in the face of orthodoxy, as the driving plot, leaving room for cultural reflection in this turbulent political climate. Carr’s Anna in the Tropics is a delight that relies on some superb actors, and a cerebral script to not only invoke emotions, but also discussion.
Anna in the Tropics plays at Goodwood Museum and Gardens from Feb. 1-9. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.