Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
March 27, 2015
“Anna in the Tropics” is a very hot play… set in a steamy 1920s summer in sultry, South Florida. In a close, confining cigar factory, workers retain their old Cuban custom of having a Lector read to them — to pass the time, decrease the routinized boredom and expose them to great literature.
The new Lector has chosen Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” which, though set in frigid Russia, only increases the heat factor in the shop. Every worker has a deep personal response to the story of Anna, her husband and her lover; the constraints of their society, the longing, the rapture, the jealousy. As the reading proceeds, a strong sensuality permeates the air, with hot-blooded consequences.
At Moonlight Stage Productions, under the direction of Carlos Mendoza, we don’t feel the heat, or the fire. Though the performances and design work are solid, a deeper layer of fervor seems to have gone untapped. And there’s a dearth of music, which is crucial to this culture and locale. The brightly-sunlit setting would benefit from more sweaty, earthy, sepia tones, though red lighting effectively punctuates the two moments of extreme passion.
This lyrical 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winner by Nilo Cruz is rich with lush, suggestive language. It may be superficially about cigar-rolling, cockfights, and automation forcing the old ways to yield to the new. But at heart, it’s about universals of human emotion, and the power of language and literature to inflame us.
Jordan DeLeon perfectly captures the optimistic innocence of a young girl ravished by romanticism. Melba Novoa is fine as her older sister, a frustrated housewife who strays, like Anna. Her costume should evolve along with her sexuality. The men have the requisite machismo, but not the sizzle.
I’ve seen the play twice before, in a professional and a student production. I wanted it to seduce me yet again; but this time, my response was more intellectual than visceral.
Moonlight Stage’s “Anna in the Tropics” runs through March 29, at the Avo Playhouse in Vista.
©2015 PAT LAUNER