The lights go down at the top of the play. As actors enter, some start to play some music – slow and calm, mirroring the graceful pace of the actors. For a moment, all remains peaceful – the actors simply watch the audience and share this moment with those in the space. Suddenly, lights shift, and we immediately jump into the midst of a gambling debacle. Folks wave money left and right, while others yell above the crowd – inviting the gamblers to increase their bets. The close proximity to the performers invites the audience into the chaos – almost making them apart of the action.
Almost as quickly as it started, the lights shift again. The gamblers duck to the ground, and Ofelia (Charín Álvarez) and her two daughters, Conchita (Krystal Ortiz) and Marela (Alix Rhode), stand at the center. The three anxiously await the arrival of a new lector who is slated to read to the workers at the cigar factory. The close proximity yet again invites the audience into their excitement as the three women look out on the horizon – almost ready to jump into the water as they search for the correct boat at the dock. Yet again, almost as quickly as before, the three women turn around and the gamblers jump back up – drawing us back into the world of alcohol and bets.
The opening scene continues to jump back and forth – so frequently that you may find yourself leaning in simply to catch up. Anna in the Tropics walks the line between a world of romantic fantasy and the reality of the cigar factory at the center of the story, and this writer encourages you to pay close attention to the opening scene because the fast-paced nature only increases as the story goes on.
Remy Bumpoo presents Anna in the Tropics
Written by Nilo Cruz, Anna in the Tropics takes place in a Cuban American cigar factory just outside of Ybor City in 1929. When Juan Julian (Arash Fakhrabadi) joins the scene as a lector to read to the workers as the hours pass by, everything begins to turn on its head. Juan reads Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and as the titular character’s passions grow in the story, the folks in the factory find the same is inspired within them.
Directed by Laura Alcalá Baker, Cruz’s story is rooted in the poetry of Tolstoy’s words. Baker’s production is fast-paced and embraces the lyric, poetic nature of Tolstoy’s work. Making use of actor-musicians, we see actors play music that mirrors the increasing pace of the story. As a result, you may even find that the music draws you further into the world – inviting your heartbreak to quicken alongside those on stage.
Bringing Romantic Fantasy to Life
As Juan reads Anna Karenina, we see the passions within the characters slowly bubble to the surface – particularly within the marriage at the center between Conchita and Palomo (Roberto Mantica). We learn early-on that Palomo is having an affair, and Conchita’s deepest desire is to also be able to find that fiery romance within her own life. Stirred by the events of Anna Karenina, in which the titular character has her own affair, Conchita is inspired to search outside of her marriage, which only draws her closer to the lector himself.
In one particular moment, we see Juan reading the story and the workers making their cigars. Conchita rolls her cigars calmly just like any other day. As Juan’s words start to become a little steamier, music begins to play, and we see two ensemble members enter – Jonathan Olivares and Tina Muñoz Pandya. The ensemble members play out the scene as Conchita imagines it – a couple dancing and completely lost in their passions. Palomo stares at his wife in pure jealousy – unable to see the dancers, but clearly wishing so deeply he could understand what might be going through her mind. Through the use of the ensemble and live music, Baker creates a fantasy world on top of the cigar factory – inviting the audience to witness the characters’ fantasies that so quickly threaten to become realities.
Standout performances and a masterfully staged production make Anna in the Tropics a sight to see. The poetry and clear inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s original work make this story the perfect fit for fans of classic literature.
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Charín Álvarez (Ofelia) Eduardo Curley-Carillo (Cheché), Dano Duran (Santiago), Arash Fakhrabadi (Juan Julian), Jalbelly Guzmán (Ensemble), Roberto Mantica (Palomo), Jonathan Olivares (Ensemble), Krystal Ortiz (Conchita), Tina Muñoz Pandya (Ensemble), and Alix Rhode (Marela).
Laura Alcalá Baker (she/her)- Director
Monet Felton (they/them)- Assistant Director
Melody Contreras (she/her)- Dramaturg
Jean Compton (she/her)- Stage Manager
Micah Figueroa (he/him)- Violence and Intimacy Designer
J. Sebastian Fabál (he/him)- Music Director
Rigo Saura (he/him)- Movement Designer
Lauren Nichols (she/her)- Scenic Designer
Gregory Graham (he/him)- Costume Designer
Aija Moreno (she/her)- Asst. Costume Designer
Claire Sangster (she/her)- Lighting Design
Peter Clare (they/them)- Sound Design
Ariel A. Castañeda (he/him)- Asst. Sound Designer
Rowan Doe (they/he)- Props Designer
Addoris Davis (they/she)- Production Manager
Lucy Whipp (she/her)- Asst. Production Manager
Harrison Ornelas (he/him)- Technical Director
Emily Altman (she/her)- Scenic Charge Artist
Gabi Sitze- Martin (she/her)- Wardrobe Supervisor
Christina Casano (she/her)- Creative Producer, Company Management, Covid Safety
February 8 - March 19, 2023
Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:30pm
1229 W. Belmont Avenue
For more information and tickets visit the Remy Bumppo Theatre website.
Photos: Nomee Photography
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.