In an adaptation of Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Anna in the Tropics, Cuban director Carlos Díaz brings the characters’ deepest, most primal impulses to the surface. Presented by FUNDarte in Spanish with English supertitles at Miami Beach’s Colony Theater, Anna is a fascinating adaptation of Cruz’s original. What’s more, FUNDarte and Díaz managed to bring together a spectacular cast of actors from Miami and from Díaz’s renowned company, Teatro El Publico in Havana. This unique Cuba-U.S. cast performed six shows in Havana before coming to Miami.
True to the original story, the adaptation is set in a cigar factory in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa. The play opens with factory owner Santiago (Fernando Hechavarría) and his half-brother Cheché (Osvaldo Doimeadiós) getting drunk and gambling on cockfights. Yanier Palmero is magnetic as Elíades, the bookie who also shape-shifts into a strutting, crowing rooster to comic effect. While Santiago begs Cheché to loan him more money and ends up signing away a huge chunk of the factory to him, his wife Ofelia (Mabel Roch) and daughters Conchita and Marela await the arrival of Juan Julián (Alexis Díaz de Villegas), a lector from Cuba that Ofelia has hired to read to the tobacco rollers while they work. When the tall, mysterious Juan Julián begins to read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to the employees, the novel’s tortured love story takes root in the lives of this family in irrevocable ways.
Díaz is known creating for creating avant garde plays that are intricately wired with subtext, bawdy humor, gesture and physicality, and Anna is no exception. In this version, word play and double entendre prevail. Early on, Ofelia declares: “A good lector needs a BIG ... ” After a dramatic pause, she adds, “voice.” At times, the double entendre possesses historical significance. Early on, Cheché’s name is pronounced with a pause between Che and ché to evoke the name of one of the Revolution’s most polarizing figures, Che Guevara.
The satire that Díaz brings to Anna is risky, but it works because the play is grounded in the truths of the characters. This is most apparent with Conchita, a restless beauty skillfully portrayed by Lili Rentería. Conchita’s passionless marriage to Palomo (Carlos Caballero) is brought out of the shadows as her desire for Juan Julián is allowed a full-scale romp. Clara González brilliantly portrays Conchita’s younger sister Marela, who jumps around the stage with the frenetic sexual energy of a pre-teen.
Mabel Roch’s Ofelia is yet another theatrical force in this powerful trio of actresses. She has the uncanny ability to put on a mannered, genteel face while utilizing voice and gesture to project the high-pitched histrionics of a neurotic Cuban matriarch. The juxtaposition is hilarious.
In this version of Anna it’s as if the characters’ lives are a massive shipwreck, and the director dove deep, trolling the depths of their stories and personalities, only to resurface with their most deeply held secrets, nightmares and treasures.