The Wilson Mainstage Auditorium is the venue for the South Bend Civic Theatre production of Nilo Cruz’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Anna in the Tropics,” which opened a two-weekend run Friday evening.
In spite of the excellent scene design by David Chudzinski and Doug Hildeman’s mood-setting lighting, this is one play that might have been better served in the theater’s smaller and more intimate alternative space, the downstairs Warner Studio Theatre, aka the black box.
The intimate nature of the narrative and the sultry atmosphere of the Ybor City, Fla., warehouse in which the action is set seem to loose depth in the ultra-airy auditorium.
Under the direction of Kevin Dryer, the eight-member cast never drops a line or misses a directional change. What it does, however, is to miss the smoldering intensity that must underscore each of the changing relationships.
The Hispanic workers who roll cigars with owners Santigo (Patrick Trimboli) and his wife Ofelia (Alicia Flores) each have their own problems and dreams. Cheche (Steven Cole), Santiago’s half brother, is slowly buying up shares in the business by covering Santiago’s gambling losses. He is the one who pushes for mechanization, declaring that quantity over quality is the wave of the
Against his wishes, Ofelia and her daughters Marela (Amorena Ruffolo) and Conchita (Consuela Howell-Wilson) have pooled their money to pay for a new lector, traditionally a man who reads to the workers — newspapers, poetry, books — to lighten the monotony of their work. When Juan Julian (Jared Roy) arrives, his choice of material is Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”
The passionate tale of love and loss speaks to each of the workers differently and ignites emotions that have dramatic and violent results.
Conveying the passion beneath the dialogue is of upmost importance in making “Anna” more than just well-delivered conversations, where people talk “at” rather than “with” each other.
Conchita’s husband Palomo (Patrick Gring), whose illicit affair has contributed to the disintegration of their marriage, tacitly agrees that she be allowed to have her own affair. No surprise, her choice is Juan Julian, a fact that eventually wears on the jealous Palomo who demands that she share their intimate moments with him.
Cheche blames the lector for the workers refusal to accept the cigar-making machinery he wants to install, as well as for Marela rebuffing his romantic advances. Fueled by liquor, his anger and resentment take a tragic toll.
Santiago, who creates a new cigar named for Tolstoy’s heroine, and Ofelia are firmly rooted in the past and attempt unsuccessfully to calm the troubled waters, refusing to acknowledge the inroads cigarettes and modernization must have on his way of doing business.
Costuming does little to establish character here. Especially Conchita wearing modern high heels working in a warehouse and Marela’s funereal “Russian” coat in which she would have dissolved in Florida heat.
“ANNA IN THE TROPICS” plays Wednesday through Sunday in the theater at 403 N. Main Street in South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.