Theater Review: ANNA IN THE TROPICS (Sierra Madre Playhouse in Los Angeles)

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by Tony Frankel on October 28, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles


In his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Anna in the Tropics, Nilo Cruz created the role of striking, velvet-voiced, Cuban lothario Juan Julian, a lector who is hired to read books to the workers in a 1929 Tampa cigar factory — it alleviates tedium, inadvertently educates them, and, in this case, causes a few women to blossom (cerebrally and otherwise). The conflict arises when the men find themselves threatened by the lecturer, what with the ideals expressed when Anna Karenina is read aloud. A gorgeous oral artist can be dangerous once the temperature rises.

Cruz’s poetic dialogue matches the timelessness of literature itself and wafts through your senses like a balmy breeze. There are times that the dialogue is so sensual that some audience members vocally squirmed. Es sexy cuando alguien te pone caliente con sólo el lenguaje del amor, ¿no?

The casting is quite astounding in its accuracy. Eric Neil Gutierrez exemplifies the swarthy, stubbled Juan because he radiates compassion and intelligence, which makes him even more attractive when he pulls back from confrontation. Gerry Del Sol embodies the gambling factory owner, Santiago, and Minerva Garcia plays his tough, practical wife Ofelia, emanating warmth from her spirit like a shawl on a chilly night. When Santiago and Ofelia fight, then make up, then fight again, it is as if they have been at it for decades. Lovely Claudia Vasquez and quirky Vanessa Marquez are Conchita and Marela, the daughters of Ofelia: underneath their irritated acceptance of each other is a strong sisterly bond of love.

Although there is a slight unevenness from other performers, director Corky Dominguez packages the production at Sierra Madre Playhouse with the same pride that the Cuban family takes with their hand-rolled cigars. Dominguez eschews multiple sets for one stunningly beautiful interior of the cigar factory, designed by Ed Haynes; the only discrepancy being that scene changes happen with lights up and there is confusion as to where we are and who we should be focusing on. Megan Gurdine’s costumes are executed with an authenticity rarely afforded in a small house; Minerva’s black gown is breathtaking.

Sierra Madre may feel like the hinterlands to those in Los Angeles, but it’s Pasadena adjacent and well worth the extra bit of driving; you will be rewarded with a lovely evening of theater in a lovely area, and the ticket prices are extraordinarily reasonable to boot. Gracias a todos.

photos by Donald Songster

Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2:30
ends on November 13, 2010
for tickets, call 626.355.4318 or visit Sierra Madre Playhouse

{ 1 comment }

Victor Herminio Lopez November 4, 2010 at 10:45 pm

I just saw this wonderful production of Anna in the Tropics for the second time, and was very moved by the acting! Everyone gave 100% of themselves to this beautifully written play. Minerva Garcia was absolutely delightful, as always. Her Ofelia was both funny, dramatic, and award-worthy, as were several other standout performers. I look forward to seeing it closing night!

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