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Anna in the Tropics

Nilo Cruz
Royale Theater, New York
(2003)

Earlier this year, Cuban American Nilo Cruz became the first Latino (or Hispanic) playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize. The prize was awarded for the richly metaphoric Anna in the Tropics and is richly deserved.

This play explores the lives of Cuban immigrants who worked in the cigar trade in Tampa, Florida, in the late 1920s. The family business is nominally run by the drunken, gambling Santiago, played by Victor Argo, but in actuality by Priscilla Lopez' Ofelia.

The factory's life is turned upside down when a new arrival, the unbelievably handsome film star Jimmy Smits as Juan Julian, has the effect of Priestley's other worldly Inspector.

He is the new "lector" at the cigar factory, employed to read novels to occupy the minds of and inspire the workers. Juan Julian does this all too well as he introduces the community to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

In no time, the women are in love and the men jealous. It is inevitable that the characters begin to relive Anna Karenina, albeit is a steamier atmosphere reminiscent of Tennessee Williams.

Daphne Rubin-Vega's Conchita falls in every way but this helps her to refind her love for her husband, John Ortiz as Eliades. At the same time, the bitter, deserted Cheché (David Zayas) boils with rage against his wife and Juan Julian while pining for Marela (the excellent Vanessa Aspillaga).

This all sounds complex but generally works well with the parallel plots giving all of the characters, except the almost angelic Juan Julian, great depth.

The pleasure is enhanced by Cruz' poetic and passionate language and subtle wit as he portrays not only the lives and loves of the immigrants but also a community's battle to survive against modernisation.

Britain should hope that this beautifully written play, well-paced by director, Emily Mann transfers with its excellent cast intact, as it would grace any London stage.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher