Join StageAgent today and unlock amazing theatre resources and opportunities. Research Playwrights, Librettists, Composers and Lyricists. Browse Theatre Writers. Here, a Cuban-American family eagerly awaits the arrival of their new lector, Juan Julian. In a cigar factory owned by the Patriarch of the family, Santiago, Juan Julian is hired to read to the family during their long days of rolling cigars by hand.
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Nilo Cruz first intended to set his play Anna in the Tropics in the s, a time when lectors readers played an important role in cigar factories. Cruz, however, reconsidered and decided that a historical account would be "too complicated" to render dramatically, so he chose instead to focus on the role the lector played in the factories during a time when personal and financial independence were inextricably linked.
The lectors were the first to be fired when the Depression began, so I set the play in Cruz also wanted to tell the story of Cubans who fled to the United States prior to the revolution. They were exiles who wanted Cuba's independence, and they would have been killed if they stayed there. I thought it was important to document this part of our culture," says Cruz also quoted in Kiger. Anna in the Tropics was written while Cruz was playwright-in-residence at the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, which first staged a production of the play in Anna in the Tropics portrays the lives of cigar factory workers in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, when a new lector, perhaps the last to ply his trade, is hired.
The men and women remain divided in their loyalties as economic hardship and the pressure to abandon old traditions force the owners of the cigar factory to adopt new, progressive manufacturing methods if they wish to stay in business. As the lector reads from Anna Karenina, a novel of adultery set in nineteenth-century Russia, he casts a spell over the workers, transforming their passions and desires through the affirming power of art.
That the love they seek may result in a tragic end is ordained as much by the story of the Russian noblewoman as it is by the actions of the workers themselves. A staunch opponent of the new communist government, Cruz's father, a shoe salesman, was incarcerated in for opposing the increased militarization that resulted from Cuba's ties with the Soviet Union.
After his release from prison, the elder Cruz was subsequently caught onboard a ship in an attempt to flee to the United States , where he would prepare for his family's arrival at a later date.
Cruz's parents remained steadfast in their opposition to the Castro regime; they bought food on the black market and withheld their son from a highly organized system of physical education classes by having a physician friend declare that Nilo had contracted hepatitis.
Consequently, Nilo was forced to perpetuate the lie and could not play outdoors with his friends as he had previously. In , the family took a Freedom Flight to the United States, but his parents later divorced.
Cruz earned a master of fine arts degree from Brown University in His play Night Train to Bolina won the W. Upon learning that he had won the award, Cruz had this to say quoted in an article in the New Theatre : "By honoring my play Anna in the Tropics , the first Latino play to earn the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, the Pulitzer Prize Board is not only embracing my work as an artist, but is actually acknowledging and securing a place for Latino plays in the North American theater.
Cruz's previously produced plays were set to be published in book form in by Dramatist's Play Service. Meanwhile, Marela, Conchita, and Ofelia stand by the seaport waiting for the cigar factory's new lector to arrive. They take turns admiring his photograph, commenting upon the qualities a good lector possesses. Ofelia confesses to her daughters that she has taken some of Santiago's money to pay for the lector's trip. She does not feel guilty about taking the money because she knows that Santiago would probably lose the money gambling.
The three women then provide a history of the cigar factory's previous lectors. Teodoro, an eighty-year-old man who died three months ago, should have, in Marela's opinion, given up his job years ago because his heart "couldn't take the love stories. Conchita then remarks that Teodoro's replacement didn't last long, for reasons that are explained later in the play. Because so many ships from Europe and South America stop in Cuba, Conchita expects the lector to bring new books with him.
As the ship pulls into port, Marela confesses that she has followed the palm reader's advice and put the lector's name in a glass of water filled with brown sugar and cinnamon so that he would accept their offer of employment. Ofelia warns her daughter about playing with spells and altering another's destiny.
Conchita adds that such simple spells are how witches learn their craft. She then tells a story about how one woman couldn't stop crying after she put a spell on her lover and he died.
Marela admits to feeling "awful," albeit more from fear that the spell will not work than from regret for having cast it. When the women can see no sign of the lector among the many men wearing hats, Ofelia blames Marela's spell for their misfortune. Marela is nervous with anticipation at the lector's arrival, a nervousness that grows with each passing minute. Ofelia hopes that the lector will be able to detect the gardenia she wears in her hat.
Marela, believing that her spell has "ruined" the lector's arrival, vows to return home to remove his name from the glass of water. The lector, Juan Julian, having spied Ofelia's white gardenia from afar, approaches the three women just as Marela prepares to leave. As Juan Julian introduces himself to the women, Marela, suffering from nervousness, wets herself.
Rather than embarrass the young woman further with his presence, Juan Julian leaves to find the steward. Juan Julian reports to work to perform his first reading.
Ofelia arrives to clarify the situation. Ofelia discusses with Juan Julian some of the other workers whom he has already met. All of these workers, who come from places such as Spain and Italy, share a desire for romance. She tells Juan Julian to report any trouble to her husband. Juan Julian announces that Anna Karenina pronounced Ah-nah Kar-eh-neen-ah with a Cuban accent will be his first selection. Juan Julian offers to read from another book when Marela learns that, in Juan Julian's opinion, the book is "Quite romantic.
Ofelia then engages Juan Julian in a conversation about how the landscape and climate in Tampa differs from that in Cuba. The sky seems bigger, and there is more light. Juan Julian and Marela flirt and philosophize with each other as they discuss the many types of light that exist in the world. Marela concludes that the light reflected off the skin is "the most difficult one to escape.
He is trying to collect on the debt owed to him by his brother. Ofelia tells him that she cannot honor the debt because she has no money. Juan Julian reads from Anna Karenina as he strolls among the workers, who are entranced by the sound of his voice as they handle the leaf tobacco. He reads a passage from the book, one told from the heroine's perspective, that speaks of the shame and humiliation Anna feels for betraying her husband, yet the passion she feels for her lover, a passion which is returned in kind, is worth the price she must pay.
Like a good storyteller, especially one who wishes to keep his job, Juan Julian ends the story shortly thereafter to heighten the element of suspense. Overcome by the passionate story Juan Julian has just read to them, Marela, Conchita, and Ofelia romanticize about the lector, referring to him as "the Persian Canary" because "it's like hearing a bird sing when he reads. The men and women are divided in their opinions, but Ofelia, with the support of her two daughters, defends her decision to hire a lector.
Soon everyone talks about what type of stories they like and how Juan Julian's reading has made the characters in Anna Karenina come alive. Marela dreams of snow and the images are so vivid that she wants to borrow a fur coat for when she travels to Russia in her imagination. The men exit, and the women pore over some of the more passionate lines from the book. They discuss what it must be like to be part of a lover's triangle, though the irony is not lost upon Conchita, who is thinking about her own life.
The women conjecture about the characters' actions, experiencing their problems vicariously. The women then discuss dreams and whether it is foolish to have them. Marela and Ofelia are discussing the importance of a man's cigar when Palomo enters. He and Conchita will be working late.
Marela and Ofelia bid goodbye, and soon thereafter the couple discusses Santiago's gambling habit. Conchita changes the subject by asking Palomo if he likes the novel that Juan Julian is reading to them. Conchita, eager to test her husband's reaction, asks him if hearing about Anna's affair makes him "uncomfortable. Conchita and Palomo get into an argument over his inability to appreciate literature.
Palomo thinks that "Money can buy everything," but Conchita says that money can't buy the places she occupies within her imagination. Their conversation turns toward their marriage. She says he married her because she gave him a cigar, one she had rolled especially for him. Conchita continues to view the beginnings of their relationship romantically, but Palomo insists that he married her because of an unnamed obligation he owed to her father.
Upon hearing this, Conchita realizes that Palomo never really cared for her. Seeking an outlet for her disappointment, she once again launches an attack against him for being unable to appreciate the finer points of literature. To drive home her point, she cites an episode from Anna Karenina in which Anna's husband becomes suspicious of an affair; Conchita tests Palomo's ability to comprehend the example. Palomo understands her implications completely.
Conchita makes a direct comparison between their lives and those of the characters in Anna Karenina but with a twist of irony: "Anna and her husband remind me of us.
Except I'm more like the husband. Conchita chides Palomo about his "secret love," drawing the analogy between art and life even further. She wants to know more about her husband's mistress; she wants to know what she does to make him happy. Palomo responds by asking Conchita if she wants a divorce, but Conchita would prefer to take a lover instead. Palomo blames Anna Karenina for putting these ideas into his wife's head, saying, "This book will be the end of us. She can learn to love her husband in a different manner than before.
She quotes a line from the book: "If there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. In this comical scene at the family house, Ofelia and Santiago, who are not on speaking terms, conduct a conversation by using their daughter Marela as an intermediary. Santiago has no money to buy cigarettes, but Ofelia refuses to give him any money, calling him "a drunk, a thief and a-good-for-nothing gambler.
Santiago threatens to pawn his wedding ring, but Ofelia, in a barbed reply loaded with double entendre that speaks volumes about the state of their marital relations, says that he might as well since "his finger got numb. Unable to tolerate her parents' bickering anymore, Marela leaves. In an effort to mollify his wife's wounded sensibilities, Santiago comments on the new lector's performance, though he does not mention him by name. Reconciled temporarily by their interest in Anna Karenina, the couple discusses the qualities that make Levin "a dedicated man.
The topic shifts from a real estate transaction in the book to control of the cigar factory, with Santiago admitting that drink impairs his business decisions. Santiago agrees, saying, "To the factory I need to go back.
Ashamed of his actions, Santiago admits to having been a fool. Ofelia says that he's being silly, but Santiago insists that this is what he must do to restore his self-respect.
Santiago turns the subject to Levin again, asking Ofelia about the woman whom he loves, Kitty. Ofelia explains the love triangle that prevents Levin from winning Kitty's love. Santiago, drawing inspiration from Levin's fidelity to one woman, " swallows the gulp of love " as he fails to tell Ofelia his true feelings for her.
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What happens when people refuse to change, will not accept technological advances, and do not know how to cope in a world that has passed them by? Since this is a story of multiple passions gone stale, a fiery despair should be projected by the characters in this award-winning tale set in a Cuban community in Tampa, Florida in The action of the play revolves around a central figure known as the lector. In the industry of handmade cigars, there was tradition, from the late 19 th century up to the Great Depression, of hiring a learned person to read newspapers, poetry, and great works of fiction to the mostly illiterate Cuban and Puerto Rican workers as they performed their monotonous tasks in the hot and humid conditions necessary to keep the tobacco leaves moist and supple.
Anna in the Tropics
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