Light up and savor
Anna in the Tropics
Coloma Community Center4623 T St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Ah, the fine art of the hand-rolled Cuban cigar. Today, the hand-rolled cigar is becoming a lost art, but at one time it was a major industry in Cuba and Florida, with professional cigar rollers taking pride in producing the perfect smoke.
Nilo Cruz’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Anna in the Tropics transports us to a small cigar factory in 1929 Tampa and introduces us to the transplanted Cuban shop owners, rollers and their prized lector—the learned man who reads to the factory workers to break the monotony of their work.
Sacramento’s Teatro Nagual provides a fascinating peek into this world of laborers thirsty for knowledge and literature while facing a changing world where machines are out to replace them. This is the same company that—along with Teatro Espejo—produced the impressive Frida last year, and is busily filling the void in local Latino theater.
Teatro Nagual is a small but mighty troupe with a collaborative spirit that’s contagious, bringing together enthusiasm, talent and committed community members, including local Cuban immigrant and third-generation cigar-shop owner Pierre Perales (whose wife, Ana Maria Perales, plays Conchita), who provided cigar-rolling lessons, lent them authentic props and actually became one of the cast members.
The result is a satisfying and sizzling story that swirls around a suave new lector Juan (Martin J. Rodriguez), who introduces Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to the impressionable women and resentful men. It’s no surprise that Tolstoy’s tale foreshadows future drama in the factory, and for the most part, the juxtaposition works.
The cast works well together under the watchful eye of director Kristine David, who draws out notable performances from Perales as a frustrated factory worker; Jay Patrick as the jealous husband; Ernesto Bustos as the resentful cuckold who lost his wife to the previous lector; and Rodriguez as the new lector. The staging is creative and effective—instead of using the high auditorium stage at the Coloma Community Center, they move the action onto the floor, creating an intimate theater-in-the-round, complete with a simple, handsome set of wooden cigar-rolling tables.
Add rhythmic music, the aroma of cigars, and the fact that Teatro Nagual sells cuba libres, mojitos and sangria at the shows, and you’ll leave with a Cuban beat bouncing in your brain.