20 years later Anna in the Tropics is as impactful and important as it was when it first premiered. Nilo Cruz now takes the play that earned him the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a Latino playwright and gives it a new life with his directorial vision in focus.
Miami New Drama’s anniversary production breathes new life into this poetic work with aesthetics to match the language itself. Originally premiering at New Theatre in Coral Gables, Miami New Drama brings the play back to a familiar home of South Florida with Cruz at the helm, filling each moment on stage with the lyrical nature of his words.
This romantic drama illustrates a Cuban-American family of cigar makers whose lack of and longing for love are put on display with a depression-era America as the backdrop. Set in 1930 Ybor City(Tampa), the story follows the aftermath of the arrival of newcomer “lector”, Juan Julian(Gabriell Salgado), who reads literature to the cigar makers – the Alcalar family – while they work and the impact he makes on their lives, whatever turn that make take.
The family is desperate to hold onto one another and the idea of what love can and should be, which is only heightened by the first story the lector reads, Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. The women of the family glob onto this romantic epic, especially the eldest daughter Conchita(Hannia Guillen), who not only falls in love with the story, but is heavily influenced by it which affects the relationship with her husband Palomo(Brandon Espinoza).
Guillen, gives a heart wrenching performance as a spouse fed up with remaining complacent and purposefully naïve to her husband’s infidelity. She starts off as a spurned woman, then as the story progresses and the story of Anna Karenina resonates within her bones, she transforms into the kind of person that takes control of who she is and what she wants – the thing she wants being to be and feel loved and appreciated.
Salgado as the lector Juan Julian does just that. His arrival creates a stir and Salgado’s charisma on the stage brightens up any and every scene he is a part of, infusing a passion resembling that of the romantic stories he reads. Salgado himself is in high demand, jumping from theater to theater and up until now he seemed to be chosen for one reason that overshadowed his skill and ability within the craft that is given a chance to shine in this play.
The Alcalar family is one that any and all Latiné people can see themselves through, from the boisterous father figure Santiago(Serafin Falcón) to the excitedly eager youngest daughter Marela(Andrea Ferro), the lovelorn worrisome mother Ofelia(Saundra Santiago), and finally landing on the irritatingly prying Cheché(Daniel Capote) . This is one of the reasons the play struck such a cord when it first premiered and why it still touches the hearts of many that encounter it, because of the range and color that exists in latiné families that comes to life within this world. A story about a Cuban family trying to make it in this country while attempting to find love and connection has a universal truth about it. Each actor exists within their own world on that journey towards connection, trying desperately to grab onto something before they float away.
Taking on the role of director, Cruz creates a massive challenge for himself that some playwrights never truly overcome – the separation. Separation between the creator and the work itself is a necessity, giving way to an unbiased perspective because without it you are doomed to fall blindly into a trap of your own making. With a beautiful set designed by Arnulfo Maldonado that feels like the inside of a massive wooden ship, and costumes by Christopher Vergara that lend themselves to the poetic elegance of the words, Cruz is given room to play.