Photo by Dan Norman
Anna in the Tropics at the Jungle Theater
“Everything in life dreams. A bicycle dreams of becoming a boy, an umbrella dreams of becoming the rain, a pearl dreams of becoming a woman, and a chair dreams of becoming a gazelle and running through the forest.” –Marela
The dreamlike feel of Anna in the Tropics, now playing at the Jungle Theater, transports theater-goers to a 1920s cigar-rolling factory near Tampa, Florida. The family that owns the company hires a lector to read literature while the employees work, as per Cuban tradition. The lector, Juan Julian (played by Juan Rivera Lebron) reads Anna Karenina, and soon the employee’s lives begin to resemble the book’s drama. Older daughter Conchita (Nora Montañez) and husband Palomo’s (Rich Remedios) loveless façade of a marriage crumbles and heals as the couple endures affairs, arguments, and lessons on how to be vulnerable again. Santiago (Al Clemente Saks), the factory’s owner, must confront his gambling and drinking problems to keep the factory and his wife’s trust. And younger daughter Marela (Cristina Florencia Castro) just wants more than the life she’s been given.
All the characters have something tender, witty, and deeply human about them. So many of them go through twisted paths of mistakes, vulnerability, guilt, regret, and redemption that it’s not hard to be silently rooting for them all at the end. They are each relatable in their own ways, while never taking us too far out of the vintage Floridian dream world we’ve come to find comfort in.
Perhaps the most dreamy parts of the play, though, happen through the timeless words of Anna Karenina. As the lector reads, oversized blinds lining the back and sides of the stage shutter open and the factory workers’ minds wander to aristocratic parties and tangled love affairs in Russia. It’s easy for the audience to get lost in the magic of it all like the employees do—as long as we don’t all start living out the book’s plot, too. What a messy spring in the Twin Cities.
The play—which won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama—hasn’t been performed in the Twin Cities in years, and it’s never been done at the Jungle. It kicks off artistic director Sarah Rasmussen’s second full season at the theater and supports her vision of bringing more diversity and gender equality to the Jungle. All announced directors in the 2017 season are women (Larissa Kokernot pioneers the season with Anna in the Tropics), and Rasmussen has continued to ensure more actors are female and nonwhite. It’s a welcome (and necessary) breath of fresh air and, with any luck, will be the start of a new era in the Twin Cities theater scene.
Anna in the Tropics. Through March 12. The Jungle Theater, 2591 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls. 612-822-7063. jungletheater.com