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Close, and a (Cuban) Cigar!

This last week Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics opened up on the Annie Russell stage. The story opens up in historic Ybor City, Tampa Bay – a hub of cigar production in 1929.

An excellent job of casting and direction by Dr. David Charles, Professor of Theatre, lends itself to amazing performances. The set is a remarkable work of picturesque art showcasing the talents of “Artist in Residence” Lisa Cody-Rapport and student Assistant Technical Director Christopher Pepe ’14, as well as Assistant Scenic Designer Rebecca Kleinman ’15. Getting down to the nitty-gritty, the cast is elevated to new heights with amazing makeup and costumes. Costume design from Wayne Folks ’04 and Crysta Vickers ’15 shows that excruciating detail was taken to construct the perfect rendering of late 1920s dress.

The cast itself – the show features a diverse and enthusiastic ensemble; newcomers to the stage consist of Michael Gallace ’13, Joshua Medina ’15, and Alexios Venieris ’16, playing Palomo, Santiago, and Cheché respectively, all of whom stand out for their Annie Russell Theatre debut. The most kudos has to go to Alexandra Feliciano ’15 for her seamless acting and dexterous performance as Ofelia.

The themes of the show run deep and are intertwined with Leo Tolstoy’s famed Anna Karenina. The cast are workers in a cigar rolling factory where their lector has recently passed. It was traditional in that era for a lector, or learned man, to read to the factory workers during the day to entertain them while they undertook the task of rolling the cigars. A new lector appears on the scene in the form of Zach Zebrowski’s ’15 charismatic and handsome Juan Julian. Enrapturing the cast and audience with his honeyed reading of Tolstoy’s work, Juan Julian catches the eye of the married worker Conchita, played by the beautiful Katherine Waddell ’15, and the young and naïve Marela, played brilliantly by Lalitha Kasal ’15. The love story emerges from Conchita’s desire to take on a lover, despite her husband, Palomo. She finds this lover in Juan Julian and culminates her affair in a dramatic and realistic love-making scene on stage with the suave lector.

Alongside the love story is the eternal battle of change pitted against tradition. Cheché, continues to leverage shares of the cigar factory from its owner and his brother, Santiago. Cheché tries to introduce machinery into the factory and suggests getting rid of the newly hired Juan Julian, seeing him as a waste of money. Cheché is joined in his enmity of Juan Julian by Palomo, who is aware of his wife’s adulterous relationship with the fetching lector. Cheché’s hatred for the man grows as his reading of Anna Karenina reminds him of his former wife, who left him years ago for a lector. The hatred within Cheché grows so powerful that he assaults and then rapes the young Marela, a symbol of youth and innocence being destroyed by a symbol of modernity and industrialization. Nearing the end of the play, the climax reveals a dramatic murder in-factory of Juan Julian by Cheché. The final scene opens with a deafening silence, only to be filled by Ofelia’s request for someone to fill the hole left by Juan Julian. Palomo takes up the mantle and begins reading from the last place and the play closes with the sadness of the lector’s untimely death.

A wonderful production with excellent actors, scenic work, Anna in the Tropics will have you gripping your seat with its drama, love, and enthusiasm and then leaving satisfied with having seen such a wonderful story portrayed so well by our very own Rollins students.

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