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Anna in the Tropics First Rehearsal Recap

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Jason Manuel Olazábal. Photo by Daniel Reichert.

By Bridgette Ramirez
February 21, 2022

Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics ripples with raw passion and intriguing drama that pulls the workers of a Cuban-American cigar factory through an explosive transformation as a lector reads them Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In his opening remarks for first rehearsal, Director Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx (he/him) said: “We’re looking for a distilled elegance and beauty in simplicity. The play has poetry in the language, and we’re hoping to add to this through visual poetry as well. We want to find moments of tension, pulses of momentum, which keep the audience on the edge of their seats.”

Audiences may recognize Muñoz-Proulx as the Director of Cultural Programming who leads ANW’s Noise Now program, but he is now ready to tackle directing his first ANW production on our stage. He intends to lean into the play’s theatricality, luxuriousness, and sensuality while also amplifying Cruz’s sophisticated language through strong visual elements and beautiful, illuminated colors. 

Costume Designer E.B. Brooks plans to evolve the color scheme of the characters, beginning with lots of ivory, crème, and beige. Then as the story progresses, new colors, textures, and adornments inspired by tropical foliage and wildlife will weave into the costumes to make everything more vibrant. “Jonathan loves the blue of the poison dart frogs, for instance, so we will incorporate that,” said Brooks. “We love the idea of adding pops of color and lush tropical details to shoelaces, pocket squares, hat ribbons, neck scarves, and more.” 

Brooks is pulling inspiration from cigar box imagery and photos from the 1920s, but Brooks and Muñoz-Proulx want the play to have a contemporary feel while still being historical. “We’ll be adding little modern touches that keep it fashionable and fresh as we add richer colors and details as the story goes on,” said Brooks. From accessories to beading to embroidery, the costumes will add a tasteful elegance to the production’s aesthetic. 

Similar to costumes, Properties Designer Shen Heckel will make intentional choices about introducing new colors while making sure they help tell the story. Heckel is also researching the intricate process of cigar rolling to make sure that this core story element is played authentically. 

Muñoz-Proulx also delved into the scenic design, which will take advantage of the height of ANW’s stage with a two-story factory set that plays with the space in a new way. “We are going to create an incredible C shape,” said Muñoz-Proulx. “ANW’s stage has a beautiful deep thrust, and then we’ll have a high upstage wall with the second story, the doors, and the staircase. Then above the thrust stage, we’re going to have an epic ceiling. So, we’ll have a three-sided C that will come into the audience and create a wonderful canopy above all the scenes.” 

While the set will have realistic architecture and iconography to ground us in the story, the floor, wall, and ceiling will be painted a bold deep green while the furniture will be a rich dark wood. The furniture will include a long work table for cigar rolling for the characters to sit around like at a dinner table as the striking green hues surround them on all sides. “Even though it has the shape of a real factory, the set is going to be a stylized, theatricalized, abstracted palette,” said Muñoz-Proulx. 

Meanwhile, the sound design will blend ancestral ambiance and the voices of spirits and histories with a contemporary pulse and Russian influences. “We are not expecting audiences to read Anna Karenina, but we want to overlay the novel with the play, and sound is one way we are doing that,” said Muñoz-Proulx. A sound sample from Sound Designer Jeff Gardner drew the listeners into nature sounds of crickets and birds chirping, melodic guitar strumming and rapid percussion, and haunting, softly sung Spanish duets that mixed and ebbed throughout the piece. 

Once the designer presentations concluded, Muñoz-Proulx encouraged the cast to begin their first reading, and Nilo Cruz’s thriving, rich characters came alive in every voice and every gesture, marking another thrilling return to live theatre at A Noise Within. 

Tickets to Anna in the Tropics are available now.

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