Anna in the Tropics

Also: Waxwings.

Anna in the Tropics

Seattle Repertory Theatre; ends Sat., Oct. 30 How you respond to director Sharon Ott's staging of Nilo Cruz's 2003 Pulitzer winner may depend on how you responded to Ott's staging of Cruz's 2004 world premiere The Beauty of the Father back in May. Both productions are marked by Ott's prettified stiffness, some problems in the ensemble, and Cruz's tendency to favor lavishness in word over complexity of character. Nevertheless, when some woman onstage gets a dreamy look on her face and sighs something rich and delicate like, "Her skin was pale as a lily, and he was the color of saffron" you think, ah, hell, maybe you should just get over yourself and let the show be whatever it is. There is no doubt that the physical production is as gorgeous as Cruz's plush poeticism. The play is set in an Ybor City, Fla., cigar factory in 1929, and Ott's creative team has certainly taken us there: Hugh Landwher's extensive set, a warm, wooden, rotating peek into the factory and its owners' modest home, is the kind of articulate marvel that gives the Rep its well-deserved reputation for notable stagecraft; lighting designer Peter Maradudin's quietly regal splashes of sun match the resonant hues that distinguished his extraordinary work on The Beauty of the Father. What takes place inside such accomplished technical facility has its charms, too. Following an old, elegant custom that is as uncertain of permanence in an increasingly modernized world as the hand-rolled cigars themselves, suave new "lector" Juan Julian (Bryant Mason) arrives in Ybor City to read a novel aloud to the factory workers. He has chosen Anna Karenina to lift them from their monotony, and the life-or-death romanticism does its job, all right. Santiago Alcalar (John Herrera), the factory owner, and his wife, Ofelia (Maria Elena Ramirez), find renewed spirit in both their marriage and their business; daughter Conchita (Romi Dias) realizes she deserves the passion her inattentive husband Palomo (Paolo Andino) is denying her; impish, idealistic youngest child Marela (Tanya Perez) feels the promise of a life lived solely for love. Sure, this is all as obvious and florid as hell, but, oh, the lyrical sentiment wafts a sweet, heady spell. Cruz doesn't put enough meat on his characters' bones—we hardly know them before they're changed forever—yet their hearts are beating furiously, fabulously, right there on their sleeves. "I don't try to understand everything they say," explains Marela, contemplating Karenina's characters. "I let myself be taken." For the production to work you have to believe that you, too, would be transported by Tolstoy. And you do believe it—sort of. Ott knows an evocative stage picture when she sees one but, dammit, she can't get the show to organically feel as hot and sticky and swooning as you'd imagine bodies in exhilarated unrest would be. Her starchiness almost kills Juan's delicious seduction of Conchita; it does kill the crucial initial confrontation between Marela and Cheché (Peter Allas), Santiago's sour partner, rendering him a simple stock villain by play's end. None of the stolid men, in fact, are particularly appealing; Mason's lector resembles a silly dandy more than anything else. Give Ott this, though—her actresses find their way to the play's soul: Chipper Perez displays an iffy but appealing emotionalism; Ramirez is a true joy (she has a wonderfully happy drunk scene); and when Dias' emancipated woman looks at her faulty husband with new eyes, she conveys exactly the tremulous hope Cruz is so flamboyantly singing about. Anna is a flawed evening worth his words. STEVE WIECKING Waxwings

Leo K. Theatre at Seattle Rep; ends Sun., Oct. 31 Sociologically speaking, Book-It's adaptation of Jonathan Raban's much-vaunted "Seattle" novel works as a comprehensive and often accurate piece of Northwest ethnography. Adapter Julie Beckman and director Mary Machala have decided to fairly pimp the local color, resulting in a historical curiosity par excellence. It's not just the play—a broad, Dickensian satire on the '90s boom-and-bust culture that changed this city forever—which reflects us to ourselves: Interested audience members can gauge the current zeitgeist in the goosed giggles and self-satisfied chortles emanating from the peanut gallery as every familiar reference point is trotted out—nonfat decaf lattes, smug antismokers, Dick's burgers, grunge dudes decked out in lumberjack chic, et al. At times it feels as though this production is more interested in flattering the fatted elite of this oh-so-ripe-for-satire city; the arrogant and passive-aggressive aspects of Seattle life are given a chuck under the chin when nothing short of a knockout blow would have sufficed. The whole tone of the production is too good-natured—grunge lite. The narrative tells the intertwining stories of beleaguered English author Tom Janeway (Terry Edward Moore) and Chick (Sam Lai), an ambitious Chinese "illegal" who makes short work of the American dream. The story is all irony and paradox—as the ingenious, hard-working Chick parlays his stints of labor into better contacts and greater control of his fortunes, Janeway's life begins to unravel in a series of increasingly devastating disasters. Good thing Raban is such a strong, insightful writer, not to mention social observer. Much of the pleasure to be found in this production is in listening to the characters mouth whole chunks of his dialogue, which is pitch-perfect and, at times, wonderfully poetic. There is also fantastic economy in the narrative itself, which moves along gracefully while compressing into three quick-moving hours a massive amount of action and information. (Jeffrey Cook's scenic design is also a marvel of architectural understatement, capable in a relatively small space of encompassing mock-Tudor Queen Anne, the insomniac sterility of a corporate office, and the gritty industry of waterfront docks.) Nothing about this production is dull, though it's hard to tell just how much of our rapt attention is the self-regard of watching our recent past lampooned in a technically competent production. For all the tragic trajectory of Janeway's fate, and for all the complex and biting social commentary underlying Chick's rise to riches, the texture and tone of Waxwings are just too . . . nice, which, this being Seattle, might prove the ultimate irony. Judging from opening night, this could prove to be the play Seattle wants, but that ain't satire—satire is about what we deserve. RICHARD MORIN

 
comments powered by Disqus