Picture it: Ybor City in 1929, where a lector reads Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to Cuban American workers in a cigar factory.
That’s the premise of Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Anna in the Tropics, presented by Stageworks Theatre now through May 22.
Stageworks planned to present the play in May 2020, but then the “world shut down,” said producing artistic director Karla Hartley.
Hartley said it’s great to get back to the play now and that they retained most of the cast. The play is part of the theater’s Hispanic Initiative that highlights Hispanic artists and reveals more about their culture. The play is performed in English and, at select performances, in Spanish. It’s directed by JL Rey.
“I love when we have the opportunity to do plays in both languages,” Hartley said. “What I find striking about it is (the cast) are all very talented actors and they’re all very good in the English version. But there’s something about when they do it in Spanish in what is many of their first language. There’s an energy in that. And also, I think, because they don’t get to do what they do in terms of acting in Spanish very much at all, there’s a power in it.”
The play follows a family who work in a cigar factory and the dapper lector who reads to them as they roll cigars. As he reads them Anna Karenina, the book makes a life-changing impact on the factory workers, with its themes of love and betrayal mirroring their lives.
Hartley said it makes sense to present the play given the theater’s location in the Channel District and its proximity to Ybor City.
“It was a great way of sort of honoring the history of Tampa, and that’s something that we’re trying to continue to do,” she said.
As part of its authenticity, cigars and tobacco leaves are provided by Tampa’s J.C. Newman Cigar Company, which is also a sponsor of the show. In a celebratory moment, a real cigar is lit on the stage, but doesn’t linger for long.
Hartley said that while the play has a lot of funny moments, there are also poignant ones.
“It’s a beautiful story,” she said. “And yes, there are dark moments inside of that beautiful story, but I think that almost every story in America is somehow beautiful and tragic at the same time. ... We’re really pleased to finally be able to bring the play to our audiences.”
If you go
Anna in the Tropics runs through May 22. $40. Stageworks Theatre, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. 813-374-2416. stageworkstheatre.org.