11-17 March 2016 #799

Anna in the Tropics

With a muted backdrop, strong performances by the actors take centre stage, as several scenes stay with the audience long after they end
Smriti Basnet

Through the ages, Cuban cigars have been accorded a special status - exotic, sophisticated, and unmatched in quality. However, little do we hear of those toiling day and night to make them. Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics, set in 1929 in a factory in Tampa, Florida (also known as Cigar City), brings to light the unsung lives of cigar rollers during the Roaring Twenties.     Interpreting the story to suit a Nepali audience, the 2003 Pulitzer Prize winning play is being staged by One World Theatre in Kathmandu. Directed by Deborah Merola, the play evokes contemplation, is well crafted and captivating.

The play opens with the stage divided in half, presenting two simultaneous scenes. On one side of the partition is Santiago (Sajag Rana), the owner of the cigar factory, and Cheché (Hemanta Chalise), his half brother, betting on rooster fights and on the other, Ofelia (Loonibha Tuladhar) and her two daughters, Conchita (Kavita Srinivasan) and Marela (Rojita Buddhacharya), wait for the lector’s (Divya Dev) arrival. It is his introduction and reading of Anna Karenina that sets the pace of the story – with each reading, the workers are inspired by the characters in the novel, which in turn influences the dynamics of their own relationships. 

The strength of the play lies in its no-frills presentation, aiding the smooth transitions between scenes and focus on the characters within them. The minimalist staging under Merola’s direction suggests the dearth of satisfaction and mundane lives of the workers, compelling audiences to pay more attention to the dialogue rather than be distracted by lavish set designs. 

With a muted backdrop, strong performances by the actors take centre stage, as several scenes stay with the audience long after they end. The scene that depicts Santiago confiding in his wife Ofelia about his misgivings and trying to win back her confidence is perfectly timed, escalating from hilarious tiffs between an old couple to soul searching conversations about dignity. Another beautifully crafted scene marks the beginning of Conchita’s extramarital affair with the lector, exemplifying their unparalleled love with flawlessly synchronised movements.

Pics: Yu Wei Liew

The only area where the play was lacking was in the actor’s enunciations, which at times made it difficult to follow the dialogue. But what was lost at times in the actor’s accents was made up for by the exceptional expression and delivery of Cruz’s original lines.

Over the course of a play draped in the words of Leo Tolstoy, what the viewer leaves with is an exploration of impassioned emotions and impossible love. It not only brings out the hardships faced by the immigrants in Tampa, but also gives a glimpse into a culture that craves knowledge and the fulfillment of repressed desires. Merola’s production marvelously captures the genius of Cruz, delivering a play that is a must watch.

Anna in the Tropics will run everyday at 5 pm (except on Wednesdays) at Theatre Village, Uttar Dhoka till 13 March. There will also be a Saturday Matinees on 12 March at 12pm. Tickets are Rs 300 for adults and Rs 200 for students with IDs.

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