REVIEW: Many Layers in Burien Little Theatre’s New ‘Anna in the Tropics’

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by Shelli Park, with photos by Michael Brunk

Anna in the Tropics
Written by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Roy Arauz

The glow of an unforgiving sun on a humid day in Ybor City, Florida, and the liquid sounds of Cuban music flowing through the room set the tone for Burien Little Theater’s collaboration with the Latino Theater Projects, Anna in the Tropics, the 2003 Pulitzer Prize-Winning play written by Nilo Cruz, and directed by Roy Arauz.

Excepting that this was the first performance (Thursday night, Aug. 2) in front of a house audience, this is a tight performance, and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Gambling in Ybor City, Florida

Set in 1929, the scene opens to dueling action: heated gambling over cock fighting, somewhere in Ybor City, and a mother and two daughters waiting ocean-side for a long-awaited lector, or reader. This dichotomy of energy continues throughout the play, balancing the feeling of hope and optimism with pervasive unhappiness.

As workers roll cigars in a family-owned cigar factory, where the majority of the play takes place, the hired lector reads Anna Karenina by Tolstoy to take the minds off of the monotony of rolling the daily quota of cigars. As the story is read, the characters draw parallels to their own lives, and are either inspired or maddened by the story.

A parallel theme that is explored is the encroachment of the modern world into the old world life in a cigar factory where the cigars are still hand-rolled. The changing pace of modern America threatens the workers’ livelihoods, and the act of savoring life, a lesson we can take away today.

A mother and daughters wait for the new lector

The music (I’m not completely sure that all of the music is Cuban, but all had Latin rhythm) helps to set the scene, giving a feeling of history, passion, and drama (Sound by John Epperson). It acted as much a part of the scenery as the set. The lighting and set, designed by Steve Cooper, gives the distinct feeling of hot summer days inside of a factory, though I was not, in any way actually uncomfortable (the theater is comfortably air-conditioned). The set design is strong. Maggie Lerrick and her crew of scenic painters’ attention to detail is evident in the brickwork wall, and floorboards of the factory. There is a genuine feel of a well-worn space, though it’s owners pride shows. Costumes, designed by Addie Keller, feel just right, though one detail which I kept noticing, was the paint on the actors wingtip shoes. It was a bit distracting.

The seating is a unconventional. The two sections of seating oppose one another, leaving open space between, which creates a feeling of openness, onto which the three women are looking as they watch the ship arrive pier-side in the beginning, but is a little awkward for viewing at times.

Palomo (Erwin Galan) and Conchita (Maria Knox)

The characters created by Nilo Cruz are strong. The actors live up to the challenge.

I hope that, as the run continues, Maria Knox as Conchita continues to tighten her performance. She has moments where her passion fills the stage, but others where it feels as though she is held back, though her character, at one point, speaks to what makes a successful actor. Her character begins the play as a married woman whose passion is untapped. Her husband’s world is focused, narrow. As the play progresses, their explorations bring new awareness. Palomo (Erwin Galan) does well in his part. It is a difficult character, as his evolution must be very intentional if he is to evolve as a human. Galan is convincing in each stage.

The lector, Juan Julian (Gabriel Sedgemore) is every bit the educated, romantic, good-looking outsider that wins the hearts of the women, and takes away the monotony in the lives of these hard-working people. Sedgemore is confident in his role, and a smooth, good-natured performer.

The lector Juan Julian (Gabriel Sedgemore) reads to the factory workers

There isn’t really a bad guy in this play, just humans who are battling what we all battle. Cheche (Jason Pead) is a character who makes a lot of bad decisions, and is the least likable character in the play. Pead is brave in his interpretation, and I applaud him in being successfully able to show the tender side of a man who is not brave enough to overcome the demons in the end.

Cheche (Jason Pead) and Marela (Idalia Limon)

Idalia Limon did a beautiful job playing the young, optimistic dreamer, Marela. I enjoyed watching her fill her character with every inch of the necessary energy, physical and emotional, needed to create the feeling that here is a young woman who lives in the magic of the moment, untouched, until the end, by the harshness of the world.

The tender interplay between the lost patriarch, Santiago (Fernando Luna, also artistic director of Latino Theater Projects) and his wife, Ofelia (Eloisa Cardona) was effective. Santiago is my favorite character. Luna successfully brings us into his world. He is an affectionate father and when he is not petulant, a loyal and loving husband, but finds himself lost, regaining his place as the good-natured and assured leader of his cigar manufacturing business and family by the end. Luna’s ability to carry emotion through his words and actions is of a high caliber!

A note: there is a loud gunshot, which can be startling, towards the end. A theatrical blank is fired, which creates the urgency needed in the moment.

Santiago (Fernando Luna) and Ofelia (Eloisa Cardona)

Cruz’s writing is poetic and throughout the play a thread of wisdom is strung, delivered beautifully through the lines of the various characters. It is clear why this play won the Pulitzer Prize. There are many layers, which a second viewing will, no doubt, allow me to further explore.

Once again, Burien Little Theater delivers a wonderful evening. I walked away wrapped in a cloak of a Cuban family dreaming of a cool Russian winter. Burien is fortunate to have such a dedicated community theater.

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Anna in the Tropics’ opens Friday night, Aug. 3, and runs through Aug. 26. You can save $5 with our exclusive Coupon – just click on the image below, then print it:

Show dates and times:

  • Friday – August 3 at 8:00 p.m. – Opening night!
  • Saturday – August 4 at 8:00 p.m. – Date night – tickets 2 for the price of 1
  • Sunday – August 5 at 2:00 p.m. – $7 Sunday – all tickets just $7.00
  • Friday – August 10 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday – August 11 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday – August 12 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday – August 17 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday – August 18 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday – August 19 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday – August 24 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday – August 25 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday – August 26 at 2:00 p.m.

For more information, visit

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