Tolstoy story ignites passions in cigar factory workers

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By Bob Evans

Who knew Leo Tolstoy’s stories could be so hot and steamy, unless you took time to read his gargantuan novels, like War and Peace or Anna Karenina? So, when you choose to attend “Anna in the Tropics” at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s new home, The Warwick, be prepared for the heat–even in this everlasting KC winter.

To open their new forever home, The Warwick, a former movie house until the mid-1950s, Bob and Karen Paisley scrambled, leaned on friends, contractors, volunteers, called in overdue favors, and worked their tails off to get the building ready for their maiden production, “Anna in the Tropics,” a Pulitzer Prize winning drama by Nilo Cruz. True to form, Karen Paisley selected a strong piece of literature, filled it with greatly talented actors, took some chances, and created a beautiful play to welcome KC audiences to the MET’s new home.

Even though The Warwick restoration has only gotten underway this season, the event space carved out, so far created a good staging area for the drama. Yes, lots of work remains, but the lobby area is underway and functions, but right now remains crowded. The actual auditorium space functions well, though will expand, but already, definite advantages stand out. The lighting for this production is inspiring. The sound system works better. The set design functions well within the confines of the new space, but will assuredly open as time allows.

What’s most important, though, the blended story of Anna Karenina and the cigar factory in Florida in the late 1920s. Pride in workmanship, product, and cultural values all factor into the story. The company hand rolls cigars like they did in Cuba. But modern factories now use machines to roll the product. The clash comes to the forefront as the factory struggles to compete and remain true to their values and workmanship pride.

Enter a lector (a person who reads novels to the workers while they work), a known, celebrated lector who chooses Leo Tolstoy’s tragic love story Anna Karenina to read to the workers. Herein lies the conflict as the workers lives begin to reflect the characters in this sweltering heat of Miami and the heat generated by Tolstoy’s words. Forbidden love, passion, pain, jealousy, lust, and anger  sizzle in this pot-boiler.

Anger, brought about with the struggle between Cheche and Juan Julian just adds the spark needed to ignite the play to tragic circumstances. Andy Penn and Matthew Williamson build the combustion point as the play progresses. Penn creates an explosive character consumed by anger, rejection, pain, and ambition. Jealousy, pain, and lust between Conchita and Palomo give the melodrama legs. Victoria Boter0 and Greg Butell display a cultural clash between a married couple whose marriage is crumbling, yet convention holds them together as they struggle to find their happiness while still loving each other. All pieces and actors blend so brilliantly in creating this tight drama.

The cast for “Anna in the Tropics” is: Jose Faus as Santiago, Bonnie Griffin as Ofelia, Greg Butell as Palomo, Victoria Botero as Conchita, Althena Horton as Marela, Andy Penn as Cheche, Matthew Williamson as Juan Julian.

The production staff for “Anna in the Tropics” is Susan Proctor, stage manager; Karen Paisley, production design; Maxwell Frederickson, sound design; Jacob Bothell, master electrician; Karen Lisondra, dialect coach and dramaturg; Marc Manley, properties master. The production crew is Jacob Bothell, Bob Paisley, Ken Brustadt, Barrie Smith, Leo Mauler, Rory Carvajal, Erick Hoar, Alex Paxton, Sean Teviz, Alan Proctor, Susan Proctor, Paige Ribaudo, Demazje Bradford.

“Anna in the Tropics” continues at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s The Warwick Theatre through April 22. Parallel parking is available along the front of the building; angle parking is available cater-corner across Main Street, and in back of the building. Tickets may be purchased at 816.5693.226 or online at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre website.

Tags: The Warwick, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, “Anna in the Tropics”, Kansas City, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Bob Evans, Bailey Rose Steinke & Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and Bob Evans | KC Applauds

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