By ABBEY RUSSELL
Over the past month, the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company has been showing “Anna in the Tropics,” Nilo Cruz, a play written by Cuban-American playwright and 2003 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. New York native Rebecca Martinez directs the Fine Arts Center production, supported by a cast of seven Latinx actors, including Colorado Springs-based actor A. B. Lugo.
The play takes place in 1929 Tampa, Fla., and tells the story of a Cuban-American family and their small cigar business.
In the first act, Nicholas Ortize, playing Juan Julian — the lector hired to entertain and educate the cigar rollers — does a fantastic job of expressing his character’s ample ability as both a lector and a companion. He reads “Anna Karenina” with passion and fervor, and supports Ofelia, Marela, and Conchita as they struggle with their humdrum lives at the factory.
Elise Santora, playing Ofelia — the wife of the factory owner, Santiago — also plays an essential role in delivering the cultural and historical background of their work in the first act. Santora’s passionate performance conveys the deeply-felt significance that lectors have to those in the Cuban cigar business.
These spirited performances are amplified by simple yet effective sets. The modest set designs mirror the simplicity of the characters’ everyday lives in the factory. Further, they are reflective of 1929 Florida and highlight the strong Cuban influence present in Tampa at the time, reproducing the sense of nostalgia the characters seemingly felt toward their lives back home.
In the second and final act, I most enjoyed the emotional performances of Maria Peyramaure, playing Conchita; A.B. Lugo, playing Palomo; and Ortize. As the three navigate a complicated love triangle, they play off of one another well, with real on-stage chemistry.
With this love triangle, Cruz created a parallel structure between Julian’s reading of “Anna Karenina” and the experiences of Cruz’s characters. As the novel is read to the cigar-rollers, Conchita takes inspiration from the novel, which reflects her own experiences; ultimately the playwright creates his own “Anna Karenina” love story.
Tying the two stories together brought Cruz’s story to the next level, forcing members of the audience to see these fantastical features in their own lives. He challenges the persistent theme of a mundane reality by allowing his decidedly common characters to have uncommon experiences.
Finally, the play’s tragically dramatic end was carried out most successfully by Ashley Alvarez, playing Marela. Her ability to portray the shock and despair felt by those mourning at the play’s end gave me chills. The beautifully written play coupled with the distinguished acting made “Anna in the Tropics” a moving and enjoyable show.
Up next at the Fine Arts Center Theatre is “Ben and the Magic Paintbrush” in March, followed by “Hands on a Hardbody” in early April. The FAC offers Colorado College students free rush tickets an hour before the show, an easy way to broaden your horizons and see amazing theatre.