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McCarter Theatre Education Department Presents

Anna in the Tropics

by Nilo Cruz
directed by Emily Mann

Anna in the Tropics

A Teacher Resource Guide

By Laurie Sales

with additional material by Janice Paran
and South Coast Repertory Theatre

McCarter Theatre Center

Offered in conjunction with the McCarter Theatre Production
Tuesday, September 9 - Sunday, October 19, 2003


What's in the Script?

The World of the Play

Behind the Scenes

Other Voices

This program is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Education programs are made possible by the William Randolph Hearst Foundations; J. Seward Johnson Sr. Charitable Trusts; Bristol-Myers Squibb Company; Prudential Foundation; The Mary Owen Borden Foundation; Wachovia; Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies; Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Tribune New York Foundation; Nexus Properties; RBC Dain Rauscher; Target Foundation; Janssen Pharmaceutica Products, L. P.; The Bernstein Family Foundation; and Princeton Financial Systems and State Street-NJ.

What's in the Script?

Core Curriculum Standards

The Visual and Performing Arts are considered Core Curriculum areas for the New Jersey State Department of Education. This production of Anna in the Tropics is designed to give your students exposure to the specific Core Curriculum Standards listed below.

Anna in the Tropics and Curriculum Standards

This production of Anna in the Tropics and related study materials will provide students with specific knowledge and skills to address the following Core Curriculum Content Standards in the Arts:

1.1All students will acquire knowledge and skills that increase aesthetic awareness in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts.
1.2All students will refine perceptual, intellectual, physical, and technical skills through creating dance, music, theater, and/or visual arts.
1.4All students will demonstrate knowledge of the process of critique.
1.5All students will identify the various historical, social, and cultural influences and traditions which have generated artistic accomplishments throughout the ages and which continue to shape contemporary arts.
1.6All students will develop design skills for planning the form and function of space, structures, objects, sound, and events.

Anna in the Tropics is also designed to address the following Core Curriculum Standards in Language Arts Literacy:

3.1All students will speak for a variety of real purposes and audiences.
3.2All students will listen actively in a variety of situations to information from a variety of sources.
3.3All students will write in clear, concise, organized language that varies in content and form for different audiences and purposes.
3.4All students will read various materials and texts with comprehension and critical analysis.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Introduction to the Play

Anna in the TropicsTo open McCarter's Berlind Theatre, Artistic Director Emily Mann directs a poignant and poetic new play from Nilo Cruz (Two Sisters and a Piano). Anna In The Tropics is set in 1929 in a Cuban-American cigar factory where cigars are still rolled by hand and "lectors" are employed to educate and entertain the workers. The arrival of a new lector is a cause for celebration, but when he begins to read aloud from Anna Karenina, 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. As always Nilo Cruz transports audiences with the power of his language, leading us to the depths of his characters' passions. Mann's production of Anna In The Tropics will explore and embrace this year's Pulitzer Prize winning play in the intimacy of the 350-seat Roger S. Berlind Theatre.

In the following pages of this guide you will find background information and historical references to help you understand the characters and the world of the play. Use the sections of this guide and the study questions provided to help prepare your students to experience this production of Anna In The Tropics.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Who's Who in the Production

Nilo Cruz Emily Mann
Victor Argo Santiago
Vanessa Aspillaga Marela
Priscilla Lopez Ofelia
John Ortiz Palomo
Daphne Rubin-Vega Conchita
Jimmy Smits Juan Julian
David Zayas Cheché
Robert Brill Set Designer
Anita Yavich Costume Designer
Peter Kaczorowski Lighting Designer
Dan Moses Schreier Sound Designer

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Plot Description

Santiago's cigar factory is one of many that exist in Ybor City, Florida in 1929. The factories are facing modernization, with new technology threatening to replace the Cuban workers who pride themselves on their traditional hand rolled cigar making. As the play opens we see Santiago betting on cock fights and losing money, while his wife, Ofelia, and daughters, Conchita and Marela await the arrival of Juan Julian, a new lector hired to read aloud to the workers during their work day. Juan Julian chooses Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina as his first selection to read to the workers. The women fall madly in love with the story but Cheché, Santiago's half-brother and Palomo, Conchita's husband, are less enthused. Cheché finds lectors unnecessary, as he tells anyone who will listen. His bitter attitude is written off as a reaction to the fact that his wife left him and ran off with a lector. Cheché, however, is serious about wanting to abandon tradition in the factories and he holds on to the dream that he will someday win the entire factory from Santiago. Santiago, in a foolish move, has offered part of the factory to Cheché as collateral for a gambling loan.

Various examples of cigar art
As the lector gets deeper into the story of Anna Karenina, so do those who are listening. The workers in the factory begin to recognize connections between their own lives and the lives of the characters in the book. Conchita confronts her husband about his extra-marital affairs; Santiago recognizes the error of his ways and strives to find strength again with Ofelia's support; and Palomo discovers his own jealousy as he witnesses Conchita's budding affair with Juan Julian. It is as if the novel has seeped into the lives of those in the factory, whisking them away from the Florida humidity and delivering them to the dangerous beauty of a romantic Russian winter.

Cheché, however, is not at all taken with the lector. He strives to change the factory with machines and blames the imperfections of the cigar rollers' handiwork on their fascination with Anna Karenina. He approaches Marela specifically, trying to woo her away from her fantasies, but she resists his advances. Cheché threatens the lector's position, but Santiago steps in, proclaiming that the lector will stay and that he himself will release a new cigar named after Anna Karenina. He delights Marela by asking her to pose for the cigar label, dressed as Anna.

At the inauguration of the new cigar brand, the factory workers throw a party, drinking and celebrating the new cigar that they believe will bring them continued success. Cheché, frustrated by his powerlessness in the factory and still blaming the lector for his problems, tries to force himself on Marela. The next day at work, Marela is withdrawn and Cheché's whereabouts are unknown. As Juan Julian begins to read, Cheché suddenly appears, draws a gun and shoots the lector. Juan Julian's death sobers the family but does not do away with the custom of the lector. Palomo, changed in spirit by his own experiences with the lector and with Anna Karenina, picks up reading where Juan Julian left off.

"For some time there existed a bitter controversy in the José Lovera cigar factory, the question being whether or not the reader of the factory should read . . . the novel La Canaille by the French author, Emile Zola. A number of the female employees of the factory objected to the Zola story being read, claiming that it was obscene and unfit for the ears of a woman. Many of the men, however, desired the book read. . . . In the hot discussion attendant upon the question, Jesus Fernández and Enrique Velásquez, who had been friends, fell out, and championed opposite sides. . . . Yesterday morning, they met again and immediate action followed. After exchanging a word or two, Fernández drew a 38-caliber pistol and Velásquez like produced a 44-caliber pistol. They opened fire when they were in arm's length of each other."

(Tampa Morning Tribune, December 22, 1904)

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Character Profiles


Santiago - Santiago is the owner of the cigar factory and the patriarch in his world. Plagued by gambling troubles, Santiago struggles to protect and provide for his wife and two daughters as well as defend the nature of Cuban tradition in his factory.

"And I see a line of little ants carrying breadcumbs on their backs. But the crumbs they are taking away are my pride and my self-respect. My dignity."


Cheché - Santiago's "long-lost" half brother is more interested in modernizing the cigar factory than in stories told by the factory's new lector. His bitterness, stemming from the fact that his wife left him, is dangerous to everyone in the play.

"Working here is like hitting my head against a wall...I try to make changes...but it's like facing a wall of concrete every time I try to do something."


Ofelia - In Ofelia exists a rare combination of passion and common sense. As Santiago's wife and the matriarch of the factory, she keeps her family from falling apart with a strong and loving touch.

"We have to remember to keep our feet on the ground and stay living inside our shoes and not have lofty illusions."


Marela - The youngest child of Ofelia and Santiago, Marela is fresh-faced and innocent and allows herself to believe whole-heartedly in the romance of Anna Karenina. Her naivete leaves her vulnerable, however, when she is around those who see the world in a darker way.

"I have dreams and they are full of white snow, and Anna Karenina is dancing waltzes with Vronsky."


Conchita - Marela's older sister finds new life through the lector and his reading of Anna Karenina. She recognizes the predicaments that Tolstoy's characters face and regards the book as a way to gauge her own life.

"I'm just a cigar roller in a factory...I barely get by in life...But with this book I'm seeing everything through new eyes."


Palomo - Conchita's husband is a straightforward man whose machismo has made him take his wife for granted until she awakens jealousy within him.

"I pay attention to what he reads.
I just don't take everything to heart the way you do."


Juan Julian - Juan Julian is the sensitive lector who captivates the dreamers in Santiago's factory and who spreads his own passion for romance and language to those who will embrace it. Ironically, his fair and pleasant-spirited nature brings out intense emotions in all those around him.

"The truth is that cars, machines, are keeping us from taking walks and sitting on park benches smoking a cigar slowly and calmly."

Study Questions: Pre-Show Questions

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Glossary of Terms

trop-ic n. 1. a. Either of two parallels of latitude on the earth, one 23o27 north of the equator and the other 23o27 south of the equator, representing the points farthest north and south at which the sun can shine directly overhead and constituting the boundaries of the Torrid Zone. b. Tropics or tropics - The region of the earth's surface lying between these latitudes.

Hombre: Spanish for man, from the Latin.

Valentino: Italian-American screen actor known as the first "Latin lover" in motion pictures. Valentino's screen personality and his early death, both surrounded by mystery, made him a cult figure.

Guanabacoa: Cuban city east of Havana.

Bunion: Inflamed swelling on the first joint of the big toe.

Alms: Something (as money or food) given freely to relieve the poor.

Zeppelin: A rigid airship consisting of a cylindrical frame, trussed and covered, supported by internal gas cells.

Barbarism: An idea, act, or expression that in form or use offends against contemporary standards of good taste or acceptability.

Asphyxiate: To kill or make unconscious by inadequate oxygen, presence of noxious agents, or other obstruction to normal breathing.

Verdure: The greenness of growing vegetation; a condition of health and vigor.

Monotony: Tedious sameness.

Clara Bow: A silent movie star of the 1920s, famous for her sex appeal.

Taino Indians: The indigenous people of the Greater Antilles of the Caribbean, Trinidad and Jamaica who also inhabited the Bahamas and Florida.

Cacique: A native Indian chief in areas dominated primarily by a Spanish culture.

Deities: Gods or goddesses.

Apparatus: A set of materials or equipment designed for a particular use.

Apprehension: Suspicion or fear, especially of future evil.

Compliant: Ready or disposed to conform or adapt one's actions to another's wishes, to a rule, or to necessity.

Salud: "Cheers," or "To your health."

Prohibit: To forbid by authority; to prevent from doing something.

Socialist: One who supports or subscribes to any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Bohemian: A person (as a writer or an artist) living an unconventional life, usually in a colony with others.

Abate: To decrease in force or intensity.

Tempest: A violent storm.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

The World of the Play

Ybor City

Ybor City, where Anna in the Tropics is set, was once known as the "Cigar Capital of the World." Named for Vicente Martínez Ybor, a Spanish-born entrepreneur who purchased a 40-acre tract of land outside of Tampa, Florida in 1885 for the purpose of building a cigar factory there, Ybor City flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, attracting other cigar manufacturers and eventually outpacing Havana as a producer of the finest quality hand-rolled Cuban cigars. By 1930, however, a number of factors conspired to burst Ybor City's boom town bubble: the growing popularity of cigarette smoking, the pressure to mechanize operations, and the impact of the stock market crash.

An Ybor City cigar factory

The cigar industry in Ybor City was an outgrowth of the Cuban cigar industry, whose hand-rolled puros were considered the best in the world by the mid-19th century. Vicente Martínez Ybor started out manufacturing cigars in Havana, but labor and political unrest and the high tariffs imposed by the United States on Cuban cigars prompted him, along with many other Cuban cigar factory owners, to move their operations elsewhere. After an initial venture in Key West, Ybor set up shop in the Tampa area, where the climate and the transportation facilities (including a brand new rail line and a port facility allowing easy access to imported Cuban tobacco) offered ideal conditions for premium cigar manufacturing.

The multi-ethnic community that grew up around Ybor City's cigar industry was dominated by Cubans (including Afro-Cubans) and Spaniards, though the cigar factories and related businesses also attracted Italians, Germans and Romanian Jews, many of whom adopted Spanish as their second language. As more and more immigrants settled into life in the United States, their separate social clubs - Italian, German, Spanish, Cuban and Afro-Cuban - became increasingly important as social hubs and mutual aid societies, providing their members with recreational activities, medical care and cultural continuity.

The rise of Ybor City coincided with the Cuban independence movement, and the Cuban revolutionary leader José Martí, a frequent visitor to Ybor City, counted the cigar workers among his most militant supporters. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, labor tensions in Tampa's cigar factories - kept in check by the solidarity of the struggle for Cuban independence - began to surface, exacerbated by the fact that many of the plants were bought out by North American conglomerates intent on more efficient operations. The cigar workers, in an effort to maintain their interests and their identification with their homeland, organized a union affiliated with Cuban factory laborers, but it was short-lived, overtaken in 1901 by the Cigar Makers' International Union of the American Federation of Labor (whose organizer, Samuel Gompers, was himself a cigar maker). Labor-management relations in the cigar factories were characterized by numerous walkouts, strikes, and violent encounters in the ensuing decades.

Cigar production in Ybor City began to decline in the 1930s, a casualty of the depression and the rise in cigarette consumption. Premium hand-rolled cigars occupied a smaller and smaller niche in an increasingly automated business, and the U.S. embargo on Cuban products, imposed after Fidel Castro's rise to power in the 1960s, eliminated what was left of Ybor City's trademark industry by banning the importation of the coveted Cuban tobacco that made its cigars famous.

Cigar Industry Timeline

Spain cedes Florida to the United States.

Vicente Martinez Ybor starts his own cigar factory in Havana, Cuba. Birth of great Cuban revolutionary, Jose Martí.

Economic panic in the U.S. causes a rise in tariff duties on items manufactured abroad.

Start of the Cuban Revolution; Ybor moves his plant and workers to Key West, Florida.

Ten Years War, hundreds of thousands of Cubans seek refuge abroad.

Ybor and Ignacio Haya decide to build factories in the Tampa area, Ybor City is born.

City of Tampa annexes Ybor City and Tampa's population nearly triples.

Labor militancy causes a long, violent strike in Key West leading many Key West cigar manufacturers to move to Tampa.

Martí delivers "Free Cuba!" (Cuba Libre!) speech to 10,000 Cubans in front of the V.M. Ybor Cigar Factory. This speech, many believe, was instrumental in the development of the Spanish-American War.

Spanish-American War ends.

Cuba's Havana Liga General de Trabajadores (General League of Workers) publishes a manifesto denouncing the lack of jobs for those who had fought abroad for independence. Havana-American Company establishes ownership over several Tampa factories.
New management in cigar factories leads to a major labor-management conflict known as the "weight strike."

Ybor City is by now commonly known as the "Cigar Capital of The World."

American Cigar Company takes over Havana-American Company.

Approximately 90 percent of export trade in Havana cigars passes into ownership by North American tobacco trusts.

America declares war on Germany, thus joining World War I.

Versailles Peace Treaty is signed marking an end to the first World War.

The year in which Anna In The Tropics is set.

The Great Depression, a growth in cigarette consumption and improved cigar-rolling machinery cause a sharp economic decline for hand-rolling factories.

Cigar manufacturers abolish the use of a factory lector.

Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba and the US bans the importation of all Cuban products, including tobacco.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

The Tradition of the Lector

The lector, or reader, occupied a unique and exalted position in the Florida cigar factories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hired and paid not by management but by the cigar workers themselves to read aloud from newspapers and novels during the work day, the lectors educated and entertained their listeners with news, commentary, and classic literature.

When and where the tradition of the lector began is subject to controversy, but by the end of the 19th century, lectors were fixtures in numerous Cuban cigar plants, and when many of those factories relocated to the U.S., the practice of employing a lector traveled with them. Lectors were revered and well-paid professionals, but the workers called the shots, often auditioning prospective lectors and generally selecting their reading material.

Lectors read in Spanish, the dominant language of the factories. They typically read from newspapers and political tracts in the morning - translating into Spanish as needed - and from classic novels and other literature in the afternoon. One of the peculiarities of cigar factory culture was that, while many of its workers were illiterate, they could quote extensively from Shakespeare, Cervantes, or Tolstoy, and they were more politically aware than many of their American counterparts.

The institution of the lector was, from the beginning, associated with left-wing ideologies, a factor that contributed to its downfall. During the struggle for Cuban independence in the 1880s, lectors were a primary means of spreading the revolutionary politics of José Martí, and in subsequent decades, management viewed the lectors with apprehension as pro-labor agitators. Finally, in 1931, over the protests of the workers, cigar manufacturers abolished the lectors, and radios took their place on the factory floor.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

Tolstoy shares with Nilo Cruz an extraordinary understanding of women. Nowhere is this more evident than in Anna Karenina, widely regarded as Tolstoy's greatest work. Written in the 1870s, it tells of the spiritual journey of a beautiful upper-class woman named Anna Karenina. Anna, miserable in an empty marriage to a man twenty years her senior, meets the dashing Count Vronsky on a visit to St. Petersburg. A strong attraction builds between Anna and Vronsky and the two carry on a passionate love affair. She becomes pregnant by her new lover and chooses to leave her husband and son in favor of Vronsky. It is this choice that leads to Anna's downfall. She is ostracized from society for her choice, while Vronsky enjoys comparative social freedom. The love between the two of them is tarnished by feelings of jealousy and resentment. Eventually Anna, unable to deal with her lot in life, throws herself on the tracks of an oncoming train, and dies.

At the same time a passionate young man named Levin seeks to marry the Princess Catherine Shcherbatskaya, known to everyone as Kitty. His first proposal is rejected because Kitty believes that Vronsky intends to marry her. Levin is destroyed and withdraws to his country estate, where he works diligently on a book about agriculture. In time the couple reunites, as Levin and Kitty discover that they are deeply in love. They marry, live happily in the country, host their families during the summers, and have a son. Levin's philosophical doubts linger and trouble him for a while, but he finally feels reassured that the capacity for goodness is natural. He rededicates himself to living for his loved ones and finds personal peace through advancing the will of God.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Behind the Scenes

The World of Nilo Cruz

A Little Bit of Magic: The World of Nilo Cruz

By Janice Paran

"Everything in life dreams. A bicycle dreams of becoming a boy, an umbrella dreams of becoming the rain, a pearl dreams of becoming a woman, and a chair dreams of becoming a gazelle and running back to the forest."

- excerpt from Anna in the Tropics

Widely regarded as a long shot for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, particularly because it had not been seen in New York, Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics won out over such stiff competition as Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? and Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out. But according to Dominic Papatola, the chief drama critic of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a Pulitzer drama juror, the strengths of Cruz's quietly absorbing play - set in a Tampa immigrant community struggling to maintain its traditions - stood out even on the printed page. "With [Nilo's] work," he told Hispanic Magazine, "you can see it, taste it, smell it. It's all there."

The Pulitzer announcement came as no small shock to Cruz, the first Latino playwright to be so honored, and he likes to think that the play's evocation of a 1929 cigar factory mesmerized by a reader's voice was not lost on the Pulitzer board. "They listened to the play," he says.

The art of listening is something Cruz takes seriously, as befits a writer so attuned to the musical, emotional and atmospheric power of language. "The words of Nilo Cruz waft from a stage like a scented breeze," wrote Miami Herald critic Christine Dolen in her review of Anna in the Tropics, first seen at the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida last October, and it's a sentiment that will be recognized by anyone who's ever seen one of his plays. Though he writes in English, the rhythms, colors and inflections of his native tongue dance just beneath the surface of his texts, and his storytelling likewise conveys a cross-cultural vigor that reflects his own experience of the world. His theatrical voice is poignant, humorous, humane, often extravagant and always disarming.

For the cigar workers in Anna in the Tropics, the new lector hired to educate and entertain them is more than a remnant of a bygone era, a diverting but expendable workplace amenity. He is their window on the world, enriching their intellectual and imaginative vistas even as their hands are occupied with painstaking and repetitive labor. He is the link between their daily routines and their inner lives, easing the strain of the former while sustaining the latter.

In short, he provides them with an escape hatch akin to the survival mechanisms sought out by characters in other of Cruz's plays, most of whom - caught between old habits and new ways of thinking - passionately and doggedly refashion their circumstances with all the resources at their disposal.

It's a tendency Cruz himself picked up at an early age. Born in Cuba to a shoe salesman and a seamstress, Cruz was just shy of 10 when his family, frustrated by the growing militancy of the Castro regime, left for Miami on a Freedom Flight in 1970. As an adolescent finding his way within the close-knit Cuban expatriate community, he fell in love with the poetry of Emily Dickinson and determined to become a writer, an ambition his mother later supported with the gift of a typewriter.

His interest in theater was fueled by classes at Miami-Dade Community College and by the guidance of fellow Cuban writer Maria Irene Fornes, who invited Cruz to join her writing workshop in New York in 1988. He subsequently enrolled in the graduate playwriting program run by Paula Vogel at Brown University, and upon completing it, returned to New York, where he has made his home ever since.

If Cruz has yet to establish a national reputation or score a commercial success in New York, he has been quietly assembling a devoted following in non-profit theaters around the country. His work has been developed and produced at McCarter Theatre (A Park in Our House, Two Sisters and a Piano), New York's Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, California's South Coast Repertory Theatre, Florida Stage, the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, among others.

Cruz has frequently (though not exclusively) looked to his homeland for inspiration, mining its history, its culture and his own memories in a continuing effort to fix, for a moment, some details of its shifting realities. His plays chart deeply moving and hauntingly lyrical landscapes of longing, loss and the will to survive. In A Park in Our House, a visiting Russian scientist inflames the hearts and minds of his Cuban host family; in Two Sisters and a Piano, two women artists living under house arrest discover the terror and beauty that deprivation begets, and in Anna in the Tropics, a transplanted community carves out its own corner of the American dream.

Artistic directors who have worked with Cruz tend to invite him back, energized by the originality of his theatrical vision and seduced by his sensuous stage poetry. They're also increasingly aware of the difference his voice and sensibility have made to a theatrical repertoire that is not yet as diverse as the nation it purports to reflect. "Nilo is a playwright for the American theater of the 21st century," says Emily Mann, McCarter Theatre's artistic director.

Politics, however, take a back seat to character in Cruz's writing. He's fond of recounting an anecdote from Augusto Boal's The Theatre of the Oppressed in which Boal gave cameras to farmers in Peru and asked them to photograph their oppressor. One little boy took a picture of a nail, explaining that he was a shoeshine boy who lived in the mountains but traveled to the city to work. In order to avoid lugging his shoeshine box back and forth, he grudgingly rented a nail from a man in the city and hung his box there. "He had to pay for that nail, and to him it was the oppressor," Cruz explains. "I love how politics enters the world through something like a little nail."

Three recent plays stake out new territory for the 42-year-old writer. A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, based on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story about two youngsters who nurse an ailing angel, is his first foray into theater for family audiences; it was produced last season by the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis. Lorca in a Green Dress, which premiered in July at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, imagines the eponymous Spanish poet and playwright in a Fellini-esque afterlife, and The Beauty of the Father, Cruz's latest effort, reunites a middle-aged artist with his grown daughter, a reunion that proves troubling when they discover they're both in love with the same man. Lorca puts in an appearance here, too, this time as a ghost who serves as the father's sly and sometimes smug confidante.

It's easy to see why Cruz has often been dubbed a "magic realist," a phrase too readily applied to Latino writers. Cruz, though, has made his peace with it. "I used to shy away from the term," he acknowledges. "But I don't mind it if it helps people accept a combination of the domestic and the poetic. The Cuban people live and breathe, but there's also a poetic landscape that has to do with their hopes and dreams. A little bit of magic on the stage is important. I hope my plays lend themselves to that."

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Talking with Nilo Cruz

The South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California is also producing Anna In The Tropics this fall. Their Literary Manager Jennifer Kiger recently spoke with Nilo Cruz about the play.

Nilo Cruz
What was your inspiration for writing Anna in the Tropics?
When I learned that there was a tradition in cigar factories of hiring someone to read from novels and newspapers, I knew I wanted to write about it. Also, I was always intrigued by the art on cigar boxes. Many cigars are named after romantic love stories, and the boxes have intricate pictures on them that are quite beautiful.

At first, I thought I was going to write a play set in the late 1800s. At that time, lectors were instrumental in the cigar factories. Cuba's leader, José Martí, came to Tampa and read to the workers. He formed a brigade of workers that went to Cuba to fight for its independence. Then I thought such a historical account would be too complicated. I wanted to concentrate on the role of the lector in the factories. I decided to write about possibly the last lector in Tampa. The lectors were the first to be fired when the Depression began, so I set the play in 1929.

Did you research the history of Tampa Cigar workers?
I was awarded a residency at the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida through Theatre Communications Group. Part of the grant allowed me to travel to Tampa for research, but I decided not to go there. I didn't want to be influenced by how changed the environment was. It's very commercial now. In Ybor City, the cigar factories have been turned into bars and restaurants. I decided I should imagine it.

I looked at photographs and read books about the unionization of the factories. The Tampa workers were controversial because they wanted to hold on to a tradition. They wanted to continue to roll cigars by hand. They didn't want the machines. It was the end of an era.

Part of the impetus to write this play was to document the presence of Hispanics in America - especially Cubans. The Cubans didn't all arrive in 1959 after the revolution. These were not immigrants. They were exiles who wanted Cuba's independence, and they would have been killed if they stayed there. I thought it was important to document this part of our culture.

Why did you choose Anna Karenina?
I guess I could have chosen a novel that was set in the 1920s or had a Hispanic theme and author. In the 1920s, however, many of the lectors were socialists. The Communist Manifesto had been read in many of the factories. So, I thought they would have an interest in anything that came from Russia. I also wanted a romantic novel. I chose Anna Karenina, rather than War and Peace, because I thought it fit the aesthetic of cigar boxes.

Anna Karenina has a life-changing impact on each of the characters in your play. Had you read Anna Karenina previously?
I hadn't finished it, so I had to reread the novel as I was working on the play. I started to read it through the eyes of my characters. I don't usually like to write in books, but I found myself jotting down notes in the margins.

Once I discovered which book was going to be read by the lector, the whole play came to me. I started to explore how the characters were influenced by the story. For instance, I thought about why Conchita would be so interested in the novel. How was her experience of the book different than Marela's? Then I realized that her husband, Palomo, was having an affair. That was a surprise to me. I didn't know anything about the love story in the play until I read Anna Karenina.

This is a very sensual play. Even on the page, the reader can practically hear the rhythm of it, taste it, smell it.
I must unconsciously tap into that with all of my writing. It's important to write about the senses. One day I could be wearing new shoes, or it may be raining outside, or I could have a cold. I have to take all of that into consideration. The details of the environment effect character choices. That's the way I approach the writing process. It's like building a house - brick by brick. I build a play moment by moment.

Now that Anna has received so much acclaim, do you think audiences will expect your next plays to be similar to it?
I love Anna, but it is a play that has its own set of rules and its own world. I think when you create any work of art, you have to discover its rules. You have to be open to new structures and styles. It's fascinating to explore how each new play works on its own terms. Sometimes themes or a certain kind of sensibility start to reappear. You can certainly distinguish Chekhov from Tennesse Williams. Sometimes we don't want to repeat ourselves. For me, it's a whole process of exploration. I have to investigate each new landscape. I get to leave the world. I invent another world, and I love that.

Are you still reeling from winning the Pulitzer?
Yes. It's wonderful. I cannot believe it. The other day, I went to the bookstore and I saw a book by William J. Kennedy. He won the Pulitzer for Ironweed, which I adore. I was standing there looking at his books and thinking how amazing it was that this writer whose work I love won a Pulitzer, and now I've been given one, too. I think I'm still in shock. I haven't completely acknowledged the grandness of the award.

What's next for you?
It's been such a busy time. I've had to learn to balance being a playwright with being public. The rehearsals for Anna in the Tropics begin soon. Then there will be a production of The Beauty of the Father in December at the New Theatre in Florida, where Anna had its premiere.

Is it difficult to work on more than one play at the same time?
Sometimes I'll get momentary images or ideas about one play, but I won't have time to write them. I love writing, but the process really takes over my life. It's not the time I spend writing the play, but the time I spend away from it - dreaming the play.

- Jennifer Kiger
This interview is reprinted with the permission of South Coast Repertory Theatre.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

The Pulitzer Prize

The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded each year to individuals who have made outstanding achievements in the fields of journalism, theater, literature and music. The Prize were established by Joseph Pulitzer, a renowned newspaper publisher in the late 19th century. The winners of the annual prizes are now announced each April at Columbia University. Each year over 2,000 entries are submitted to the Pulitzer board and each year 21 awards are given. Finalists in each category are determined by panelists from within the various fields; the winners are selected by the Pulitzer board. Past winners of the Pulitzer Prize in drama include: Our Town (1938), Streetcar Named Desire (1948), Death of a Salesman (1949), Long Day's Journey Into Night (1957), A Delicate Balance (1967), Buried Child (1979), Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), The Piano Lesson (1990), Angels in America: Millenium Approaches (1993) and Proof (2001). Last year's winner was Top Dog/Underdog by Susan Lori-Parks. This year's drama jury was composed of Linda Winer, drama critic; Misha Berson, drama critic; Dominic Papatola, drama critic; Bruce Weber, drama critic; and Edwin Wilson, professor and director at Segal Theater Center, CUNY. This year's finalists were The Goat by Edward Albee, Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg and Anna In The Tropics. Nilo Cruz is the first Latin American to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Study Questions: After the Show

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Talking with Emily Mann

Before Anna In The Tropics started rehearsals in the Berlind Theatre, Laurie Sales, the Associate Director of Education at McCarter Theatre, sat down with Emily Mann to discuss her approach to the play, her artistic relationship with Nilo Cruz, and her feelings about opening the new Roger S. Berlind Theatre.

Emily Mann
ED: Anna In The Tropics captures a moment of history that many people are not familiar with. Can you tell us a little about the world of the play and the world that you hope to create on the stage?
EM: The play takes us to Ybor City, which is outside of Tampa, to a cigar factory with a Cuban enclave that is typical of many of the cigar factories in that time period. The time of the play is 1929 and things are just about to change. This story is about a lector who comes and reads to the workers while they are making the cigars. This tradition started probably in Spain, and continued in Cuba and Dominica and everywhere cigars were hand rolled. There was even a Yiddish lector in New York who would read to the Jewish cigar rollers. What is interesting about the lectors historically is that even if the workers were themselves illiterate, and often times many of them were, because of the lectors they knew what was going on in the world, they knew current events, and they knew works of great literature. They heard the great writers. They would take their own wages because it meant so much to them to have the lector. This play, however, does not focus on the politics of the time. It deals much more with the emotional transformation that happens to this small group of factory workers when they hear Tolstoy's great novel Anna Karenina.

ED: You have a long history of working with Nilo Cruz. What about his writing attracts you as a director?
EM: We (McCarter) have known Nilo for the last nine years and we've watched him continue to grow as an artist. This is his breakthrough play, I think. It's just glorious. And I am attracted to the poetry in the language and the way that poetry gets at the emotional depth of the characters.

ED: This play has the feel of a classic piece of drama. As a director of many classic works, are there other dramatic voices that you think of as you approach Nilo's plays?
EM: Of course the play is absolutely Nilo's own voice, but if I were to name the greatest influences in his writing, or what I work with in my own mind as a director, I would say Williams, Lorca and Chekhov. Nilo's work has the poetry of Tennessee Williams and Lorca, and the brilliant understanding of women that Williams had. It's also very Chekhovian in the way it depicts a world about to shift and there is this tragedy hanging in the air. There is a mix of Williams, Lorca and Chekhov in terms of style and depth of understanding and sensibility, and yet Nilo is totally himself.

ED: Does this play have a central character?
It is an ensemble play, of course, but there is a character that is a catalyst for all the changes and emotional shifts in the play, and that is the lector [played by Jimmy Smits]. The woman who is truly changed by him is Conchita, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega. But every single person in the play, as in Uncle Vanya, [adapted and directed by Mann in McCarter's 2002-2003 season] is of equal importance, they all have their own journey and that is the tapestry that we are working with. The play doesn't really exist without any one of them. It is like a wheel and the lector is at the center and everyone is their own spoke. You need each and every character. It is a true ensemble piece, which is what Nilo wanted.

ED: It is hard to talk about this coming production without considering the new space. What made you choose Anna In The Tropics as the play to open the new theater?
I've been waiting for more than a decade to get an intimate space. When you think about the three writers that I mentioned you want a space that is really going to allow the audience to feel each emotional shift and every subtle internal change. Now, because every seat in the Berlind has a perfect view and one has the sense of being close up, the entire audience will get that intimate emotional experience. When we were selecting a play to open the new space we wanted something that would really suit a space in which the actors can make eye contact with every single audience member. And for this play in particular there is so much that is sensory, starting with the feel, the smell and the taste of cigars. Anna is a perfect match for the new kind of theatre experience that we can offer in the Berlind.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Director Bio - Emily Mann

Emily Mann has been the Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre since 1990. Her McCarter directing credits include: Uncle Vanya (also adapted), The Tempest, All Over (for which she won an Obie Award), Romeo & Juliet, BecauseHeCan, The Cherry Orchard (also adapted), Fool for Love, Safe as Houses, Meshugah (a new play adapted from the novel by Isaac-Beshevis Singer), The House of Bernarda Alba (also adapted), Betrayal, The Mai, A Doll House, The Perfectionist, Miss Julie (also adapted), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Three Sisters, Betsey Brown (co-author), The Glass Menagerie, The Matchmaker and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.

Ms. Mann wrote and directed Having Our Say, adapted from the book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth, which had its world premiere at McCarter Theatre. Having Our Say went on to Broadway, where it was nominated for three Tony Awards, followed by a national tour and a production at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. Ms. Mann wrote the screenplay for Having Our Say and won a 1999 Peabody Award.

Ms. Mann made her Broadway debut as playwright and director with Execution of Justice, for which she received a Bay Area Theatre Critics Award, a Playwriting Award from the Women's Committee of the Dramatists Guild, a Burns Mantle Yearbook Best Play Citation, and a Drama Desk nomination. Her play, Still Life, premiered at the Goodman Theatre, and opened Off-Broadway under her direction in 1981, winning six Obie Awards, including Distinguished Playwriting and Distinguished Directing. Her first play, Annulla, An Autobiography, premiered at The Guthrie Theater and was produced at The New Theatre of Brooklyn. A recipient of the prestigious Hull-Warriner Award, Ms. Mann is a member of the Dramatists Guild and serves on its Council. A collection of her plays, Testimonies: Four Plays, has been published by Theatre Communications Group, Inc. Her newest book, Political Stages: Plays That Shaped A Century, an anthology she edited of pivotal 20th century works by major American playwrights, was published last year.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
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Spotlight on Scenic Design

From the scenic research photos for
Anna in the Tropics
Before the actors assemble on the first day of rehearsal for any production, a team of designers meet with the director of the production to discuss ideas for the overall look and feel of the play. Robert Brill, the set designer for McCarter's production of Anna in The Tropics, knew that Nilo Cruz's writing needed to be supported by a stage design that would allow the movement of the language to take center stage. Brill had the job of creating a space that would put the audience in the cigar factory and that would evoke the smell, sounds and feel of the world of Ybor City. The play, however, does not take place entirely in the factory. There are two scenes that take us outside to different locations. As director Emily Mann put it, "It had to be a transformative space. So, we looked for things to move quickly and seemlessly. It had to flow." Brill's research began in Tampa, where he investigated the actual factories as they existed at the time. He quickly decided that he did not want to create a literal factory by filling in every detail, but rather to evoke the atmosphere of the factories with a few strong scenic elements. Simplicity was the key.

Using photographs of the factory furniture as a guide, Brill designed a limited number of wooden chairs and tables as well as a platform for the lector. These were the basic elements that the play needed to support its action. He decided to use the look of a small, homespun factory as a model, which led him to design chairs that each had a unique look while the tables were uniform in shape and size. Mann and Brill elected to create a strong diagonal to shape the playing space. This diagonal is created by a back wall, which will bear the name of the cigar factory, painted in the style of cigar art of the period. The floor of the space is wood planked and the feel of a ceiling is created by three large bulbs that will hang overhead and a slow moving fan designed to suggest the oppressive heat endured by the workers.

It is often said of Nilo Cruz that his style allows the audience to experience his plays in a way that is truly sensory. As Brill says, "It is the simplicity of a set that will best showcase the language. My goal with Anna was to create something to embrace the play."

Model of the set designed by Robert Brill
for Anna in the Tropics

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Other Voices

Related Resources

The following resources where used in the preparation of this guide and may be consulted for further investigation of topics related to Anna In The Tropics.


Tampa Cigar Workers: A Pictorial History (Robert P. Ingalls and Louis A. Perez, Jr., University Press of Florida, 2003). An extremely useful overview of the Ybor City cigar industry history, including info about cigar making, mutual aid societies, the lectors, the political backdrop, and the decline of the industry.

Pacheco's Art of Ybor City (Ferdie Pacheco, Univ. Press of Florida, 1997). Artist/writer/doctor Ferdie Pacheco, who grew up in Ybor City, includes reproductions of his oil paintings about the life and culture of Ybor City in the 30s and 40s and earlier as well as his narratives about them.

(A National Park Service site with Ybor City cigar industry info)
An illustrated exhibition booklet from the Ybor City Museum Society entitled “How We Got Here: Immigration and Ybor City, 1886-1921.”
Cigar Making in Ybor City: A Photographic Look
A collection of cigar art at the University of South Florida.
The website for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System, which houses the Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection (with over 100 images relating to the cigar industry in Tampa).
NPR All Things Considered story about lectors - audio link available here

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices

Study Questions


1. Introduce your students to the events that led to the rise and fall of the Cuban cigar industry in Ybor City as it outlined in this guide (see Timeline). Relate these events to other periods in American history. Discuss with your students the impact of political and economical events on social interaction. How do your students expect these events to affect the characters in Anna In The Tropics?

2. Select passages from Anna Karenina. Divide your students into groups and assign each group a passage. Have each group create an improvisation that relates to the themes/characters/story of the selected text. Discuss how the themes of Anna related to the scene work.

3. Examine the Character Profiles provided in this guide and ask your students how they imagine each character will look, act and speak. Use improvised scenarios to explore relationships. Have students write about their experiences playing these characters.

4. Based on the images and research in this guide, ask your students to envision the set for Anna In The Tropics. Ask them to consider color, texture, shape and scale. Their ideas may be expressed in drawings or in writing.


1. How did the performance of Anna In The Tropics differ from your expectations? What were the most surprising elements and why?

2. How are each of the characters in the play changed from the start to the end? Which character do you feel changed the most?

3. What has replaced the tradition of the lector in today's workplace? Is there a form of education or entertainment that is in place for workers in our society?

4. In scene 3 of the play Marela says:

"Everything in life dreams. A bicycle dreams of becoming a boy, an umbrella dreams of becoming the rain, a pearl dreams of becoming a woman, and a chair dreams of becoming a gazelle and running back to the forest."

What does this quote mean to you? How is it represented in the characters and relationships in the play?

5. Write a paper that defends either modernization or the importance of tradition. Use examples from your own life to support your position. Relate these examples to those in Anna in The Tropics.

6. What do you imagine will happen to the characters after the final scene of the play? Write an epilogue that demonstrates what you imagine a next scene might be.

What's in the Script? The World of the Play
Behind the Scenes Other Voices