'Anna In The Tropics' Heats Up The Bay Street Stage - 27 East

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‘Anna In The Tropics’ Heats Up The Bay Street Stage

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Anthony Michael Martinez and Christine Spang in Anna in the Tropics. LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Anthony Michael Martinez and Christine Spang in Anna in the Tropics. LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Christine Sprang. BAY STREET

Christine Sprang. BAY STREET

Gullermo Ivan. BAY STREET

Gullermo Ivan. BAY STREET

Marcos Santana. BAY STREET

Marcos Santana. BAY STREET

Christian Barillas, Christine Spang, Guillermo Ivan, Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert and Anthony Michael Martinez in

Christian Barillas, Christine Spang, Guillermo Ivan, Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert and Anthony Michael Martinez in "Anna in the Tropics." LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Christian Barillas, Guillermo Ivan, Anthony Michael Martinez, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Iliana Guibert, and Christine Spang in

Christian Barillas, Guillermo Ivan, Anthony Michael Martinez, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Iliana Guibert, and Christine Spang in "Anna in the Tropics." LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Guillermo Ivan and Christine Spang in

Guillermo Ivan and Christine Spang in "Anna in the Tropics." LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Maria Isabel Bilbao and Anthony Michael Martinez in

Maria Isabel Bilbao and Anthony Michael Martinez in "Anna in the Tropics." LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Maria Isabel Bilbao, Iliana Guibert and Christine Spang in

Maria Isabel Bilbao, Iliana Guibert and Christine Spang in "Anna in the Tropics." LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert, and Maria Isabel Bilbao in

Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert, and Maria Isabel Bilbao in "Anna in the Tropics." LENNY STUCKER/COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Christine Spang and Anthony Michael Martinez. BAY STREET

Christine Spang and Anthony Michael Martinez. BAY STREET

Christine Spang, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Gullermo Ivan, and Marcos Santana. BAY STREET

Christine Spang, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Gullermo Ivan, and Marcos Santana. BAY STREET

Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert, Christian Barillas, Christine Spang, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Anthony Michael Martinez, and Gullermo Ivan. BAY STREET

Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert, Christian Barillas, Christine Spang, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Anthony Michael Martinez, and Gullermo Ivan. BAY STREET

Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert, Christian Barillas, Christine Spang, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Anthony Michael Martinez, and Gullermo Ivan. BAY STREET

Serafin Falcon, Iliana Guibert, Christian Barillas, Christine Spang, Maria Isabel Bilbao, Anthony Michael Martinez, and Gullermo Ivan. BAY STREET

Sophie Griffin on Jun 29, 2022

Sag Harbor is about to get much hotter: at least at 1 Bay Street. As part of its 2022 mainstage season, Bay Street Theater is presenting “Anna in the Tropics” which began with previews on June 28 and has its official opening night on Saturday, July 2.

The play, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was written by Nilo Cruz and will be directed by Marcos Santana. It takes place in a Cuban-immigrant-owned cigar factory in 1929 Tampa, Florida, and will run at Bay Street through July 24. The cast stars Christian Barillas as CheChe, Maria Isabel Bilbao as Marela, Serafin Falcon as Santiago, Iliana Guibert as Ofelia, Guillermo Ivan as Palomo/Eliades, Anthony Michael Martinez as Juan Julian and Christine Spang as Conchita.

Alive with passion and tension, the play is concerned with interpersonal dynamics in the family-owned factory’s community, but also speaks to the changing times outside of it. Modernization and mechanization will mean upheavals for the family’s cigar business and the people who work there and own it as tradition and the changing times clash.

In an interview, Christine Spang, who plays Conchita, daughter of the factory owners, Guillermo Ivan, who plays Palomo, her husband, and Anthony Michael Martinez who plays Juan Julian, the factory’s lector, spoke about their roles and the upcoming production.

“She’s really interesting because she’s just a woman ahead of her time,” Spang said of Conchita. “She’s having a real crisis, and I think it’s about honesty in your relationships and partnerships and asking for what you want, which can be really hard. […] I think she’s a really brave character and I’m excited to show her to everyone.”

The role is close to home for Spang, and not just because she’s from Florida.

“My great-great aunt’s name is Conchita and she was a revolutionary in Cuba,” Spang added later in the interview. “She was part of a revolutionary youth group, and I very much consider her a woman ahead of her time, in that era. And so in reading this, I was just like, ‘Oh my God. It’s literally my great-aunt in this piece.’ All of those things together were very kismet and very strange … It was really eye-opening and I felt a real rush of joy because it was like, I’d never felt so connected to something and felt so seen.”

Martinez plays Juan Julian, the lector. His appearance at the factory sparks the play’s action.

“Essentially what [lectors] were since the 19th century, and even, I believe today, was coming in to read to the factory workers and to bring poetry and the power of literature to these workers,” Martinez explained. “I like to think of it as a minister where his love and passion for poetry and for the divine, through the expression of poetry and acting, essentially, comes to lift them up out of the ennui and boredom perhaps.

“And maybe along the way, he might fall in love and take somebody’s wife away, just temporarily,” he added with a laugh. “But on a serious note, it’s a beautiful experience to jump into a role that is historically true: they did have lectors who came in and not only read them novels, but they read the newspapers. They informed and educated them, gave them basically a sacred space to help work in a more entertained world.”

The world the play describes is historically true in many ways. In Ybor City, a section of Tampa, cigars were big business and many immigrants from Cuba would carry on the tradition of hand-rolling.

Ivan described his own character’s journey, which involves, in part, the play’s dialogue with masculinity.

“Palomo is a worker in the cigar factory, a Cuban-American guy who was born and raised in Cuba and then moved to Tampa with his wife Conchita,” Ivan said. “Very square-minded, macho, stereotypical guy from Cuba. When this wonderful, beautiful character [the lector] appears in the middle of this world, Palomo has to face his own vulnerability throughout the witnessing of his wife having an affair with this man. He has to face it in a completely different way, not a typical, so to speak, Cuban way. He has to learn how to become vulnerable. He has to learn that there is something else beyond the pragmatic world in which he resides — that there is poetry in the world.”

This poetry comes into contradiction with the more rote, practical world of the factory and its cigars and business concerns. It is represented most squarely in the lector’s choice of text: Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” — hence, the play’s title “Anna in the Tropics.” Cruz, the playwright, creates parallels between the 1878 novel and the events of the play itself. As the events unfold on stage, the Russian classic seems to be in some miraculous way influencing the characters.

The cast and team behind Bay Street’s production of “Anna in the Tropics” is primarily made of Latinx individuals, and many are Cuban. For Spang, Ivan and Martinez, it has made for a wonderful experience, rich with a multitude of cultural knowledges.

“It’s awesome,” Spang remarked. “It is so nice to be in a room full of all Hispanic or Latinx and mostly Cuban-American [people]. So that’s just phenomenal. Our history is so complicated and there’s so much weight to it, but I feel like we all recognize that and we just come into the room with it. There’s so much knowledge that we all share of our experiences of being Cuban-Americans. We’ve learned so much from each other about new elements of our culture.”

Ivan specifically described the table reads, when the actors first came together.

“The first three, four days of table reads, they were phenomenal,” Ivan said. “It was an enriching process because we were getting to learn from each other and the Cuban-American element was so different in every single one of us. That’s the beauty of being an immigrant, or first- or second-generation — with a background, because then you’re learning about your own culture from different perspectives.”

“When I read the play, I was like this is my family,” Ivan added later. “This could be my family easily. I can identify every single character in this play. Even some of the conflicts within my family are being portrayed here as well, so well. Reading that and feeling that level of identification was very unique.”

Martinez echoed their sentiments, and pointed out that although the play richly chronicles the Cuban-American experience, it really illustrates conflicts and themes that affect and shape all people.

“It’s moving and it’s actually really touching to be part of something that feels so close to home,” Martinez added. “I don’t know if accurate is the word, but it feels like there’s a common pulse, a kind of spiritual connection having a full Latin cast like this. What I love too is that the play is on a different level to even be labeled as something that is Latin-specific, because it’s so universal in what it is talking about.”

Just as one doesn’t have to be a Russian aristocrat to love “Anna Karenina,” “Anna in the Tropics” can be relatable even if the audience hasn’t toiled away in an early 20th-century Floridian cigar factory.

“Anna in the Tropics” by Nilo Cruz, directed by Marcos Santana, runs through July 24 at Bay Street Theater on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. For tickets call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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