Anna in the Tropics | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Anna in the Tropics 

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Anna in the Tropics, Victory Gardens Theater. Like the Tolstoy character cited in its title, Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer-winning play aches with sensual yearning and an inchoate sense of foreboding. But instead of inhabiting the slate gray world of Anna Karenina's Saint Petersburg, Cruz's characters are wistful Cuban emigres in a humid Florida cigar factory in 1929. That world collides with the relentless march toward mechanization and assimilation when a handsome lector is hired to read classics to the largely illiterate factory workers.

Cruz's poetry-laced script mirrors, sometimes too literally, Anna and Vronsky's tragic pas de deux of infidelity. After a solid and intriguing first act, the play suffers in the second from a series of telegraphed plot points and a rather leaden denouement. Still, there's much to admire in Henry Godinez's well-cast, graceful production. Sandra Marquez and Gustavo Mellado (stand-ins for Kitty and Levin) have a natural, vibrant ease as the long-married couple who run the factory, equally believable when they're at each other's throats over money or dancing and flirting at a party. Charin Alvarez as their eldest daughter, who falls deeply in lust with the silky-voiced lector (Dale Rivera), is marvelous at portraying her character's reawakened desire and numbed hurt at her husband's sexual rejection.

Though Cruz's unabashedly romantic tale frustrates in its final moments, that's a measure of how thoroughly beguiling it's been up to that point.

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