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Jon Lawrence Rivera directs poignant, passionate
‘Anna in the Tropics’ for Open Fist Theatre Company
LOS ANGELES (REVISED April 16, 2019) — Sultry heat and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” combine to spark rich fantasies and broken dreams, passion and adultery. Open Fist Theatre Company presents Anna In The Tropics, the powerful, poignant and poetic play that garnered the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for then unknown Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz. Jon Lawrence Rivera directs for a May 3 opening at Atwater Village Theatre, where performances will continue through June 8. Pay-what-you-want previews begin April 26.
The lives of a Cuban-American family working in a cigar factory in Ybor City, Florida during the Prohibition Era are upended in Cruz’s fiery, sensual play. It’s 1929, and flaring tensions between old traditions and new ways include the threat of new, mechanical cigar-rolling machines that loom over the factory workers who still roll cigars by hand. Also in danger is the tradition of the “Lectore de Tabaqueres,” who reads out loud to the cigar rollers to break the tedium and pass the time. The arrival of Juan Julian, the new lector, is cause for celebration. But when he reads Anna Karenina to the cigar rollers, he unwittingly becomes a catalyst in the lives of his avid listeners, for whom Tolstoy, the tropics and the American dream prove a volatile combination.
“It’s an extremely passionate play and very erotic,” says Rivera. “The lector ignites feelings that are bubbling up in all of these characters. Their emotions burst out before we even get to intermission. It’s about the power of words and how people communicate.”
According to artistic director Martha Demson, Open Fist has always loved plays with rich language, and Anna in the Tropics, with its vivid dialogue and depth of emotion is ripe for revival.
“I’m not interested in the so-called quotidian language that one hears at the grocery store,” Nilo Cruz told Playbill in an interview. “I look for the kind of language that captures the Spanish sensibility and the cadence of the way that people speak. It is lyrical and a little more heightened. I’ve heard my grandmother and my sister speak very poetically at times. Through the poetic, I find the spiritual.”
The Open Fist production stars Steve Wilcox (American Me, Libertador, Swamp Thing) as inveterate gambler and family patriarch Santiago, owner of the cigar factory; Antonio Jaramillo (series regular on FX’s Mayans M.C., Shades Of Blue opposite Jennifer Lopez, Three Days in the Country and The Seagull at Antaeus) as his bitter and envious half-brother, Cheché; Jill Remez (West Coast premiere of Nilo Cruz’s Two Sisters and a Piano at South Coast Rep, recurring this month on Adam Ruins Everything) as his wife, Ofelia; Presciliana Esparolini (soon-to-be-released No No No, Yes directed by Drake Doermus) as older daughter, Conchita; Javi Mulero (Anna in the Tropics at the Pasadena Playhouse and Arizona Theatre Company) as Conchita’s husband, Palomo; Jade Santana (previously seen at Open Fist in Under Milk Wood) as younger sister Marela; Christopher Cedeño (Open Fist’s Under Milk Wood and The Zoo Story) as Eliades, who runs the local cockfight; and Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Best Actor Award-winning actor Byron Quiros (Take Me Out at the Geffen Playhouse, 2017 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection Hot Seat) as Juan Julian.
The creative team includes set designer Christopher Scott Murillo, lighting designer Matt Richter, composer and sound designer Tim Labor and costume designer Mylette Nora. The rehearsal stage manager is Therese Olson and the production stage manager is Ben Scuglia. Martha Demson and Beth Robbins produce for Open Fist Theatre Company.
Anna in the Tropics was a commission of the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida. It received its first production at New Theatre during the 2003/2004 season with the help of a grant from Theatre Communications Group.
Cruz, who came to Miami on a Freedom Flight from Cuba at the age of 10, was the first playwright of Hispanic descent to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He was virtually unknown until his play was named the surprise winner of the 2003 prize, besting two other finalists, The Goat or Who is Sylvia? by Edward Albee and Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg, both of which were considered heavy favorites for the nation’s most prestigious playwriting honor. That same week, the American Theatre Critics’ Association (ATCA) named Anna in the Tropics winner of the 2003 American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg New Play Award. Cruz accepted the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award and a $15,000 cash prize at a ceremony at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the 27th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Cruz’s other plays include Exquisita Agonia, Bathing in Moonlight, Beauty of the Father, A Bicycle Country, Capricho, The Color of Desire, Dancing on Her Knees, Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams, Hurricane, Lorca in a Green Dress, A Park in Our House, Two Sisters and a Piano and Night Train to Bolina. He has also written a musical, texts for musical orchestrations and the libretto for Bel Canto, an opera based on the eponymous Ann Patchett novel. Some of the theaters that have developed and performed Cruz’s work include the Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, McCarter Theatre, South Coast Repertory, Oregon Shakespeare, Florida Stage, the Alliance Theater in Atlanta and Coconut Grove Playhouse. Cruz is part of the Playwrights Ensemble at Victory Gardens in Chicago, and has taught playwriting at Brown, NYU Gallatin School, Yale School of Drama and the University of Iowa.
Open Fist Theatre Company is a collective, self-producing artistic enterprise with all facets of its operation run by its artist members. The company’s name combines the notion that an open spirit, embracing all people and all ideas, is essential, with the idea that determination, signified by a fist, is necessary if the theater is to remain a vital voice for social change and awareness.
Anna in the Tropics opens on Friday, May 3 at 8.p.m., with performances thereafter on Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. (dark Monday, May 6) through June 8. There will be one additional Friday night performance on June 7 at 8 p.m. Four preview performances take place on Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, April 28 at 4 p.m.; and Thursday, May 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 with advance purchase, $30 at the door on Saturdays and Sundays; $20 with advance purchase, $25 at the door on Mondays and on Friday, June 7; and $35 advance purchase and $40 at the door on Friday, May 3, when they include a post-performance opening night reception. Tickets to previews are Pay-What-You-Want.
Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. On-site parking is free. For reservations and information, call (323) 882-6912 or go to www.openfist.org.
Details for Calendar Listings
“Anna in the Tropics”
Anna in the Tropics — Nilo Cruz’s poignant and poetic 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning play captures 1929 Florida at a time when cigars were still rolled by hand and lectors were employed to educate and entertain the immigrant workers. The arrival of a new lector is cause for celebration, but when he reads Anna Karenina to the cigar rollers, he unwittingly becomes a catalyst in the lives of his avid listeners, for whom Tolstoy, the tropics and the American dream prove a volatile combination.
• Written Nilo Cruz
• Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera
• Starring Christopher Cedeño, Presciliana Esparolini, Antonio Jaramillo, Javi Mulero, Byron Quiros, Jill Remez, Jade Santana, Steve Wilcox, Jennifer Zorbalas
• Presented by Open Fist Theatre Company, Martha Demson, artistic director
Previews: April 26 – May 2
Performances: May 3 – June 8
• Thursday at 8 p.m.: May 2 ONLY (preview)
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 26 (preview), May 3 (opening night), June 7 ONLY
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 27 (preview), May 4, May 11, 18, 25; June 1, 8
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: April 28 (preview), May 5, 12, 19, 26; June 2
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: May 13, 20, 27; June 3 (dark May 6)
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(FREE parking in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater)
(323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org
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• Saturdays and Sundays: $25 with advance purchase, $30 at the door
• Mondays and Friday, June 7: $20 with advance purchase, $25 at the door
• Friday, May 3 (opening night): $35 with advance purchase, $40 at the door (includes catered reception)
• Previews: Pay-What-You-Want