Far, far, far off-Broadway with “Anna in the Tropics”

The winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, "Anna in the Tropics" by Nilo Cruz, is being presented by the drama department at Daytona State College in Florida.  I happen to be in neighboring Ormond Beach, Florida, this weekend, visiting with my Mom and two nieces, so we hopped over to Daytona to catch the opening night.   This production is directed by Walter Kmiec, with set design by Scott Green, lighting by Trevor Aiello, costumes by Kimerley Rowan, and audio by Jeff Jordan.  These technical aspects of the production struck me as first rate in this context.

The acting was of the enthusiastic amateur variety.  The advantage of a college production is that most of the leads actually look their parts, but beyond that the results were far from dramatic realism.  The plot is a soap opera of passion and turmoil in a Florida cigar factory in 1929 as a co-owner of the business seeks to introduce some mechanization over the wishes of the other co-owner and the workers.  One of the most pleasant facets of working in a cigar factory of the traditional sort where the product was rolled by hand was that the workers all chipped in to hire a person to read to them while they worked in silence – the "lector" being a cut-above the factory floor crowd in eloquence and appearance.  This would be eliminated with the introduction of machinery, which would generate too much noise to allow for quiet listening and would require more attentiveness from the smaller number of workers attending to the machinery. 

Of course, the introduction of a handsome, charismatic new "lector" into the cigar factory, where men and women work side by side – including sometimes spouses – is a formula for trouble of the traditional melodramatic variety, and so it goes.  Despite their short-comings, this student cast did manage to suggest the potential power of the play, and from time to time managed to strike the deeper chords that persuaded the Pulitzer board to make the award to this play in spite of some strong competition that year — Take Me Out, for example — even thought the play had not yet received a major national production.  I'd love to see this with a fully professional cast.

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