CarlosAlexis Cruz, Nurys Herrera, and Enrique E. Andrade

Photo by Russell Young

Julie Cortez
El Hispanic News Writer

Portland, OR — “Ana en el Trópico” is set in balmy Florida, but the play’s characters generate so much of their own heat they’d probably sweat in the dead of a Russian winter. Miracle Theatre is serving up this sexy, sweltering antidote to the winter blahs Feb. 11 through March 5.

“Ana en el Trópico” explores the desires, vices, and love shared among the workers and owners of a cigar factory in Ybor City, Florida, on the cusp of the Great Depression.

The written word plays a starring role in the play, which centers on the tradition of lectors reading aloud to factory workers from newspapers and classic works of literature — in this case, Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”

For the workers, listening to “Anna Karenina” proves to be more than a tool of diversion and edification; it is a reflection of their own lives. Unfortunately for some of the characters, they begin to experience not only some of the novel’s passion, but its tragedy, as well.

Director Christy Drogosch — who is also an actress and a school teacher — has enjoyed digging for the Tolstoy treasures that playwright Nilo Cruz has planted throughout “Ana en el Trópico,” a task made easier by her voracious reading habits. She’s feasted on Tolstoy’s hefty tome twice.

“I think I’m really looking for the echoes that we see from the novel throughout the play,” says Drogosch, who counts “the interweaving [Cruz] has done between the novel and this play” among her favorite aspects of “Ana en el Trópico.”

Topping Enrique E. Andrade’s list of favorites about the play — in which he portrays the lector, Juan Julian — is “the poetry of reading ‘Anna Karenina’ in Spanish.”

Shortly after being cast as the lector, Andrade confessed to Drogosch that he wasn’t wowed by the language of “Anna Karenina” when he read it in English. Experiencing the excerpts of the novel in Spanish featured in the play has led Andrade to believe that perhaps English is less compatible with Russian than the more romantic Spanish is.

Found in translation

The play’s director and actors have similar feelings about the translation of “Ana en el Trópico.”

Robert Frost once said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Frost has four Pulitzers Prizes to Cruz’s one, but the Cuban-American playwright may have a contradiction for the American poet with “Ana en el Trópico.”

Cruz wrote his Pulitzer-winning “Anna in the Tropics” in English before translating it into his native Spanish. The Miracle Theatre production utilizes this translation, but will also project English supertitles for each performance. The translated excerpts of the quintessentially Russian “Anna Karenina” only add to the lingual acrobatics.

Far from lost in translation, the Drogosch argues that the poetry has only been heightened and improved in the Spanish version.

“It’s kind of miraculous how well it reads in Spanish,” Drogosch says.

The original English version can sound “a little stilted,” she adds. “It sounds more natural in Spanish.”

In this environment of emotionally-charged storytelling, literary references, and beautiful, sensuous language, Drogosch has watched her actors flourish, finding surprising new dimensions in their characters and making discoveries about themselves as artists.

“It’s like watching flowers bloom,” Drogosch says of the actors. “It’s just lovely.”

Miracle Theatre presents “Ana en el Trópico,” Feb. 11-March 5 at 525 SE Stark St., Portland. Tickets are $14-$25 and are available at www.milagro.org or by calling 503-236-7253.

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