Category Archive for: ‘Greg & Suzanne Angeo’

“Anna in the Tropics” at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Photos by Eric Chazankin

 

Armando Rey (reading), Bronwen Shears, Kathleen Pizzo-St John, Laura Sotile

Armando Rey (reading), Bronwen Shears, Kathleen Pizzo-St John, Laura Sotile

Aromatic, Smoldering “Anna”

Things are pretty steamy onstage these days at 6th Street Playhouse, because “Anna in the Tropics” has come to town. This smart, sultry drama with conscience and heart premiered in Coral Gables in 2002 and earned Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, making him the first Latino to do so. It also received two Tony Award nominations the following year after appearing on Broadway.

The setting is 1920s Tampa, in the unique Cuban neighborhood called Ybor City. The fine art of crafting Cuban cigars was well-established there by that time, with workers turning out hand-rolled stogies by the millions each year. One family’s little factory is at the center of the story. To them, it represents the traditions of their homeland and the dream of prosperity in their new home in America. Prohibition is lamented and Hollywood’s silent film stars are adored. Old traditions melt into new ones. Fierce love of family and friends rules their hearts, passions run hot as the Florida sun.

Ofelia (Laura Sottile) and her husband Santiago (Dan Villalva) are hard-working factory owners, proud of the meticulous care taken in the creation of their fine cigars. Automation looms, threatening their livelihood, but they hold fast to their hand-crafted tradition. Their eldest daughter Conchita (Bronwen Shears) and her husband Palomo (Lito Briano) toil side-by-side with her younger sister Marela (Kathleen Pizzo-St John), rolling cigars and sorting tobacco leaves. Ofelia has decided to employ a lector from Cuba named Juan Julian (Armando Rey) to read books aloud to the workers. Lectors were another Cuban tradition – the rock stars of the day – to help relieve the tedium and bring in a little culture and entertainment. In the end, Juan Julian brings that, and much more. Santiago’s brother Cheche (Jared Wright) keeps gambling at the cockfights, perhaps to forget the pain of the wife who left him – for a lector.

Lito Briano, Bronwen Shears

Lito Briano, Bronwen Shears

In an interesting plot device, Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” plays a role in the drama, providing the inspiration for one frustrated wife to find the romance she desperately needs. In this case, life truly does imitate art, but with profoundly different consequences.

As the seductive lector, Rey turns in a solid performance. He’s the eye of the hurricane, transforming lives around him with calm self-assurance, although perhaps a bit too understated. Shears’ strong and sensual Conchita is both vulnerable and formidable, with fluid gestures and raw emotional expression. Briano as her errant husband Palomo also conveys a complex duality: deep love and deep regret, turning to grim resolve at the very end. Sottile’s Ofelia is earthy and loving, the show’s center of gravity. Villalva as her husband Santiago gives a strong and engaging performance, a worthy match for Sottile. Wright shows Cheche’s bitterness, and keeps him sympathetic, but without much nuance. Pizzo-St John as Marela offers a glimpse of her character’s hopes and longing for a life outside the drudgery of the factory.

Marty Pistone‘s perceptive direction allows the humor and affection to shine through the poetic dialogue. Maybe there could be a few more atmospheric details here and there: If the opening scene is a little confusing, some simple sound effects (seagulls and boat horns for the dock sequences, roosters and crowd sounds for the cockfight) may help. Slightly off-tempo pacing in some spots, especially at the end, will resolve itself as the actors settle into their roles. The cast as an ensemble is outstanding and move together perfectly. Pleasant set design by Jesse Dreikosen is easy on the eyes with use of mellow earth tones. Original Latin music by Nathan Riebli serves as elemental punctuation, helping to drive the story along.

Laura Sottile, Dan Villalva

Laura Sottile, Dan Villalva

Anna in the Tropics” is a thing of beauty, a story of romance, disappointment and revenge told with remarkable use of language and rhythm of movement. It’s also one of the few really important productions in the North Bay that offers audiences a view into lesser-known aspects of Latino culture. It’s a real treasure, and should not be missed.

When: Now through March 26, 2016

8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays

2:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Tickets: $15 to $32

Location: GK Hardt Theater at 6th Street Playhouse

52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa
Phone: 707-523-4185 ext 1

Website: www.6thstreetplayhouse.com