It’s a play with a pedigree: not least pulling a Pulitzer; and its (big) critical reputation, on Broadway (where it boasted Latino heartthrob & NYPD staple, Jimmy Smits) and elsewhere, well-and-truly precedes it.
Written by Cuban-American Nilo Cruz, who was hot property even before Anna also won the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, the Company B production features the likes of Zoe Carides & Christina Falsone, to name but two, directed by Nic Papademetriou, who also stars.
Come to think of it, it’s a veritable crime against humanity, or, at least, dynamic performances from accomplished and dedicated actors, to single out but two, since all are more than creditable. So, let’s not overlook Rom Gulla, Radek Jonak, Dina Panozzo, Lani Tupu and Steve Vella. Then again, every actor should have such a fine script with which to work.
Belvoir Street (downstairs) ain’t Broadway and, in this case, we’re richly rewarded by that palpable reality, for the confronting intimacy (I had to shuffle in my seat numerous times to allow the actors adequate access to the stage) is one of the critical factors working in favour of engagement with the demanding emotional trajectory of 100 minutes of textbook drama.
It’s the tail end of the roaring 20s; machines are coming of age, romance is dying (or is it?), but cigars are still hand-rolled with love and dedication in a small family factory in Tampa, Florida. The humidity’s high and there are casualties to the sultry, tropical air, which grows heavier by the minute.
Lani John Tupu is owner and patriarch, Santiago, recently run off the rails by the twin engines of drinking and gambling. He almost loses his dignity, marriage and factory; the last to the designs of his northern-born brother, Chester, who has his eye on a technological future, in which workers and passions die, hand-in-hand.
Meanwhile, Santiago’s beautiful daughters and vivacious wife, played by Zoe Carides, Christina Falsone and Dina Panozzo, as staunch matriarch Ofelia, dream, romantically, of the imminent arrival of the new lector. In this context, for the uninitiated, lectors were of an ostensibly secular bent; hired to alleviate the stifling boredom stemming from the monotony of factory labours. The impossibly tall, broad-shouldered leading man looks of Juan Julian are too much for Santiago’s daughters, who fall even before he opens the book he’s chosen to read them (Anna Karenina). While, for starry-eyed Marela, it’s enough to escape to the wintry raptures of Petersburg, elder sister Conchita is struck, awed and transformed by Tolstoy’s connection with humanity, but, more than this, she discovers her life and herself between its pages. She is enraptured, not only by the way Juan has with words, but by his physical charms. Marela is seduced by the prospect of a winter wonderland; Conchita is utterly emancipated by the relationships portrayed, which resonate in her so powerfully she is led to finally, and directly, challenge husband Palomo’s longstanding hypocrisy in taking a lover, while allowing her none. Her still abiding love for him is, tragically, sublimated into an affair with the smooth-talking Juan; her simultaneous saviour and undoing.
There is further poignant, to say nothing of timely, tragedy in the spectre which looms throughout: Cheche (Chester)’s role as the ‘ghost in the machine’ is a motif which alludes, powerfully, to the march of history, which saw lectors and rollers relegated to its annals, just a few years hence. This is further dramatized late in the proceedings; but to tell would be to concede one of the stings in the tale.
In fact, the play is full of allusions: the cockfight opener, for example, anti-homage to mindless machismo. Cruz thus establishes a dialectic from the start: the quill and quip of a rarefied, poetic life, versus the roar and rip of the daily grind.
Eyes are turned in many directions. Cheche hasn’t recovered from the forfeit of his wife, Mildred, to a former lector and, in his longing, obsesses over his ravishing niece (Marela). His ‘affections’ are forced upon her and, in the forcing, innocence is destroyed, as surely as in the first garden of love.
Anna is a play strong on action; gentle, generous and humane in the telling. The language sometimes borders on the voluptuous, while inspiring deep reflection on persistent issues on the future of relationships and humanity itself. Much is killed-off; much is liberated.
At the very least, it’ll have you rushing out to read books which, until now, you’ve probably only pretended you’ve read. At best, it’ll have you rushing to your beloved’s side to spot-repair all the holes and flaws in the garment you share.
Either way, I promise you, it’ll have you looking eagerly forward to the next Theatron Group production.
Theatron Group in association with B Sharp is proud to present
ANNA IN THE TROPICS
by Nilo Cruz
Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills
Preview: Thursday 19 April 2007
Opening Night: Friday 20 April
Dates: Saturday 21 April – Sunday 13 May 2007
Times: Tues 7pm, Weds-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: $29/$23 (preview $20, Cheap Tues pay-what-you-can, min. $10)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au