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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Anna In the Tropics
The long table used by factory workers to make cigars is set on a sharply raked stage and revolves. It revolves at the beginning of Act II under the passionate love scene of lector Juan Julian and factory worker Conchita and at the play's climax, as suspensefully as the raised gun that initiates the play's final tragedy.
In the large Latino community of Los Angeles where Nilo Cruz first came to many audiences' attention at the Strasberg Theatre Center, other values of the play have an ethnic familiarity. The poetic language, which may sound unrealistic in the mouths of factory workers, brings to mind translations of poems by Borges. Although the play acknowledges the automation that will make most cigar-rollers obsolete, it is not about economics nor about the socialist themes in Tolstoy. No, no, no! The Latino-Russian colors in this play are the dark flames of passion and beyond.
The play begins to spark when the passions engendered by the lector's reading of Anna Karenina emerge. Ofelia's rancor against her gambling husband Santiago, who owns the factory, dissolves when he talks of his love for the lector's reading and Anna Karenina.
The theme is developed in the scene between Conchita and her husband Palomo. He has long been unfaithful, she has long looked for a lover in retaliation or frustration, and found it in Juan Julian. Palomo will never talk about his lover or why he prefers her but he's fascinated with Conchita's openness about her affair with Juan Julian, how they talk about Palomo, how eventually their love-making becomes what Conchita calls "like an actor's surrender", like making love to herself, an intimacy she has learned through her experiences with these two men. This scene is crucial to Paloma's final opening and participation in the lector's world.
The set and Peter Maradudin's superb lighting are complemented by some excellent performances, headed by Apollo Dukakis as the gambling factory owner Santiago, whose weaknesses and intuitive sense of tradition and literature ground the play.
Jacqueline Duprey, a radiant beauty, is riveting as Conchita. Al Espinosa has an understated elegance that serves Juan Julian in the lector/seducer's role very well and Timothy Paul Perez preens divinely and obtusely as Conchita's husband Palomo. Adriana Gaviria's interpretation of an effervescent teen-ager is too contemporary but Gaviria shows her range in the tragic closing scenes. Javi Molero is excellent in the one-dimensional role of Cheche. Though a little light in the vocal projection department, Karmin Murcelo hits her marks as Ofelia.
Though this is a typical well-made play in the "Come to Realize" resolution on the part of Paloma (does he become a lector because he thinks he'll impress the ladies or because he really believes its important?), the inference is that literature will work from the outside in, a consummation devoutly to be wished.
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