Ken Howard/SCREarly in Anna In the Tropics, Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning play at South Coast Repertory, one of the characters quotes Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "If there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts." This dynamic interplay of ideas and emotions is the foundation for Cruz's understated elegy to a lost way of life, a thoughtful celebration of the transformative power of literature and a passionate meditation on the many forms of love.
The play is set in Ybor City, near Tampa, Florida, in 1929. Three women, who work in a cigar factory, are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new lector from Cuba. The lector, Juan Julian (Julian Acosta), has been hired to carry on a near-sacred tradition: reading great works of literature to the workers as they roll cigars. His first selection, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, proves provocative, spawning everything from painful memories of lost loves to unsettling new passions.
Cruz's script is unabashedly literate, rich and complex, full of unexpected poetry, erotically charged dialogue and fascinating juxtapositions that broaden and deepen the play's underlying themes
Under Juliette Carrillo's steady, straight-forward direction, the play unfolds in a series of perfectly executed scenes, played out by one of the finest ensembles ever to grace a local stage. The inspired pairing of Adriana Sevan's Conchita and Jonathon Nichols' Palomo leads to some of the play's most remarkable moments: each of their scenes together is staggeringly authentic and complicated, layered with ambiguity and charged with the genuine heartache of two people painfully aware of the gulf that has opened between them, desperately seeking but not finding the means to cross it. In these scenes, Anna In the Tropicsfinds its true power, as an honest depiction of devastating love.
Anna In the Tropics at South Coast Repertory's Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555. Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m. Through Oct. 19. $27-$55.