ng play, "Anna in the Tropics."
Written by renowned Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, "Anna in the Tropics" is set in a 1920s Tampa, Fla., cigar factory. In addition to the tradition of hand-rolling cigars, the Cuban immigrant factory workers brought another tradition with them, that of the lectors "? well-dressed men who would read aloud to the workers from newspapers, labor journals and great novels.
Working without the aid of loudspeakers, these men would educate and entertain hundreds of workers at a given factory. In the play, the arrival of a new lector named Juan Julian ignites the passions and imaginations of his listeners by reading Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" to them. Elements of Tolstoy's tale of love and adultery in 19th-century Russia echo throughout the play. As the story goes on, life and art collide as the workers' experiences begin to mirror the novel, sending them down dangerous paths, exploring dreams and desires that will change their lives forever.
Clarissa Betts, the dramaturge for the OU production, said "Anna in the Tropics" is about how art can influence people and change lives. In this case, the art is "Anna Karenina," which acts as a character in the story and is the source of the play's title.
"The story takes place before the Great Depression and is a kind of bittersweet look at an old way of life versus the forces of American capitalism," Betts said.
It was a time when employers were expelling the lectors from the factories for educating workers about the labor movement, while also looking at trying to replace the workers themselves with machines.
Betts said the setting and story of "Anna in the Tropics" showcases the Hispanic acting talent within the OU Drama Department.
"We do a lot of color-blind casting in shows, but this gives them a role that can say, 'Yes, this is something that's closely related to my own culture and I feel connected to that,'" she said.
Production organizers hope to capitalize on the intimate space of the Lab Theatre to focus on Cruz's language, which Betts said has been critically compared to Anton Chekhov, Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams.
"The interesting thing about the play was that none of the Pulitzer Prize jurors had actually seen the play performed before they awarded it to him," Betts said. "They had read the play and they loved the language so much that they gave it to him without having seen a production, which is pretty rare.
"He was given the award based on his language, so that's the whole idea for it to be this intimate space where the language just runs over you, and you become immersed in this whole other world that is so different than ours."