Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2016’

Mary Ann Rodgers Directs Anna in the Tropics, as Realism that’s Magical



This first play of RVP’s El Festival Series is an exquisite verbal symphony by Nilo Cruz, about the transforming power of literature, and it simmers with surprising moment to moment vitality.  The play opens with the entire cast waltzing together, wonderfully choreographed by
Kavita Master.

The set, cleverly-designed by Malcolm Rodgers and constructed by Eugene DeChristopher, is divided on the stage into a cigar factory, stage right, and various other scenes stage left.  A window is centered upstage with beautiful lighting design by Ellen Brooks.  The costumes, designed by Michael A. Berg, are both imaginative and appropriate.

The action is largely set in a family-owned cigar factory, in 1929 Cuba. Cuban emigre Santiago (Mark Albi) and his half-brother Cheche (Ben Ortega) are betting on cock fights going on right there, in the cigar factory!  Santiago loses again, and is borrowing money from Cheche against his shares in the cigar factory.

Meanwhile, the women – beautifully costumed in white – including Santiago’s wife Ofelia (Hallie Frazer) and daughters Conchita (Regina Morones) and Marela (Neiry Rojo), are at the port awaiting the arrival of the new lector (factory “reader”) Juan Julian (William H. Bryant Jr.).  Cigars are still hand-rolled in this factory, and by Cuban tradition, a lector is hired to read to the workers because, as Ofelia puts it, “His words are like a breeze that breaks the monotony of factory work.”Anna 3

Cheche, unlike the rest of the family, is from the North and has ideas of modernizing the plant with machines, and he is rabidly opposed to hiring a lector.  (We come to know the reason – his wife ran off with one some years back, and he still hasn’t recovered.)  This puts him at odds with the rest of the family, with the exception of Eliades, his less-aggressive brother (convincingly played by Eugene DeChristopher).

But Juan Julian is both handsome and charming, and the mostly-female workers will lose themselves in any plot Juan presents in his readings.  Some see themselves in the characters of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Take, for example, the Anna- equivalent Conchita, trapped in an increasingly loveless marriage to fellow-worker Palomo (Rio Martinez) and who, as we see later, is quite attracted to the lector.  Her younger sister Marela also has her eye on Juan Julian.  It’s a set-up for trouble – but not until the audience feels the Cuban heat and the boredom of the repetitive factory work.26949887046_5b4954fcf7_z

Director Mary Ann Rodgers, who clearly knows her way around the script, has a fine cast and a good sense of how to move them through the action.  Halie Frazer is outstanding as the strong and long-suffering Ofelia.  William Bryant is not only convincing but is easy on the eyes.

The play’s plot has discernable nods to Tennessee Williams and perhaps Chekhov. But what sets the script apart is the mere poetry of Cruz’s language.  Do factory workers really talk like that?  It doesn’t matter!  You can’t help but be transported by them!  We’re also transported by the evocative Sound Designs of Billie Cox.

It’s not Anna in the Tropics that “transports” us – it’s the audience feeling the heat of the family action, the longing, and the push/pull between tradition and modernization.

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Photography by Gregg Le Blanc

Anna in the Tropics began May 27 and will continue through June 19, 2016. Regular performances are scheduled for Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays 8:00 p.m., Saturdays 8:00 p.m., and Sunday Matinees are at 2:00 p.m.  For tickets to Anna in the Tropics, go online to or call 800/838-9555, and tickets for School Groups, call 415/456-9555 extension 3. All performances take place at The Barn, home of the Ross Valley Players, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.

There are three particular theater events closing out the 86th Season of the Ross Valley Players:

  • The Miracle of Concepcion, on June 12, 2016 at 7:00 pm, a black comedy written by Mary Ann Rogers set in El Salvador, and directed by Jennifer Le Blanc.
  • Back by popular demand for 2 performances will be Tell Me Your Name written and performed by Irma Herrera and directed by David Ford. The first performance will be June 25th at 8:00 pm, and the last performance of Tell Me Your Name at RVP will be June 26 at 1:00 pm.

And, the final play of RVP’s 86th Season will be Robin Hood by Greg Banks, and directed by Chris Cassell, from July 15 to August 14, 2016.

Flora Lynn Isaacson