Passion play: ‘Anna in the Tropics’ a hit for Gallery Players

Passion play: ‘Anna in the Tropics’ a hit for Gallery Players
Forbidden love: Conchita (actress Abbi Hawk) and Juan Julian (Fabricio Santos) make a compelling pair of star-crossed lovers in the Gallery Players production of “Anna in the Tropics,” playing through Nov. 4.
Photo by Steven Pisano

Take a cruise to the “Tropics!”

The latest production from Park Slope’s Gallery Players, “Anna in the Tropics,” is a magnificent meditation on the nature and power of desire, filled with passionate performances and complex characters. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, written by Nilo Cruz and directed here by Mark Gallagher, plays through Nov. 4, and you should catch it while you can.

The play is set in a 1929 Florida cigar factory owned by Santiago, a well-meaning family man with drinking and gambling problems (played by Peter Tedeschi), his level-headed wife, Ofelia (Rebecca Smith), and his hapless but power-hungry half-brother, Cheché (Sergio Mauritz Ang).

Cheché unsuccessfully tries to bring change to the factory, seeking to replace the workers with machines and to get rid of the newly arrived lector, Juan Julian (an exceptional Fabricio Santos), who reads aloud from Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina” to keep the workers entertained as they roll leaves around tobacco.

Juan Julian’s love for literature enchants Ofelia and her two daughters, Conchita and Marela, and the women spend their workdays lost in the sound of his voice, letting themselves be carried from the heat of the Florida factory to the snowy streets of St. Petersburg. The book begins to reflect the workers’ dreams and struggles, and they both explode with love, jealousy, and desire.

The two sisters are the heartbeat of this play. Marela, a young idealist, dreams of visiting Russia in real life, and harbors a harmless crush on Juan Julian. Actress Maylin Castro is perfect in the role, playing Marela as a strong and sassy woman who is not afraid to dream big. As Conchita, who also harbors a forbidden love for Julian, Abbi Hawk is excellent, and she and Julian’s Santos have a wonderful chemistry, sharing a convincing love for language and literature.

Tedeschi and Smith — playing the girls’ parents, Santiago and Ofelia — offer equally memorable portrayals, powered by passion and strong senses of their characters.

The remaining men fare less well: Sergio Mauritz Ang as Cheché, and John Squires as Conchita’s husband Palomo, both seems unsure in their roles, playing relatively one-note characters, without the complexity that make the other roles so compelling.

Those quibbles aside, the show is great — a sweeping story of passion that will leave you fully satisfied.

“Anna in the Tropics” at Gallery Players (199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 595–0547, www.galleryplayers.com). Oct. 25–Nov. 4; Wed–Fri at 8 pm; Sat, 2 pm and 8 pm; Sun at 3 pm. $25 ($20 seniors and kids under 12).

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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