Act 1, Scene 1
Anna in the Tropics begins with Santiago and Cheché betting money at a cockfight. Eliades, the bookie and promoter of the contests, calls out the names of the combatants as Santiago and Cheché make their wagers. Santiago becomes engrossed in the action, raising his bets impulsively while Cheché takes a more cautious approach. When Cheché wins the first time, Santiago tells him, ‘‘You’re a lucky man.’’
After losing his second wager, Santiago asks Cheché for a loan of two hundred dollars so that he, Santiago, can continue betting. Here Cheché demonstrates the acumen that makes him an astute businessman, for he tells Santiago, ‘‘I don’t lend any money when I’m gambling, and I don’t lend any money when I’m drinking.’’ Santiago insists, however, declaring, ‘‘With your lucky money I’ll show you what I can do.’’
Cheché finally relents, but when neither one of them can find a piece of paper upon which Santiago may write a promissory note, Santiago carves the amount he owes on the bottom of Cheché’s shoe with a knife, signing his name with an S below the sum. Despite this assurance, Cheché remains doubtful about whether Santiago will repay the loan. ‘‘I’ll pay you back,’’ Santiago assures him. ‘‘I’m your brother, for God’s sake!’’ When Santiago loses the second fight and asks Cheché to lend him two hundred dollars more, Cheché declines, saying that Santiago is ‘‘jinxed.’’ Santiago convinces Cheché to loan him the money by promising to give him part of the cigar factory if he does not pay the loan. Once Santiago has finished carving the new total, he tries to persuade Cheché to wear his shoe, but Cheché refuses, knowing that his footsteps would erase the figures, thus relieving Santiago of his obligation.
Meanwhile, Marela, Conchita, and Ofelia stand by the seaport waiting for the cigar factory’s new lector to arrive. They take turns admiring his photograph, commenting upon the qualities a good lector possesses. Ofelia confesses to her daughters that she has taken some of Santiago’s money to pay for the lector’s trip. She does not feel guilty about taking the money because she knows that Santiago would probably lose the money gambling. ‘‘I’ll spend my money on the best lector we can get,’’ Ofelia says.
The three women then provide a history of the cigar factory’s previous lectors. Teodoro, an eightyyear- old man who died three months ago, should have, in Marela’s opinion, given up his job years ago because his heart ‘‘couldn’t take the love stories.’’ The last novel he read was Wuthering Heights. Conchita then remarks that Teodoro’s replacement didn’t last long, for reasons that are explained later in the play. Because so many ships from Europe and South America stop in Cuba, Conchita expects the lector to bring new books with him.
As the ship pulls into port, Marela confesses that she has followed the palm reader’s advice and put the lector’s name in a glass of water filled with brown sugar and cinnamon so that he would accept their offer of employment. Ofelia warns her daughter about playing with spells and altering another’s destiny. Conchita adds that such simple spells are how witches learn their craft. She then tells a story about how one woman couldn’t stop crying after she put a spell on her lover and he died. Marela admits to feeling ‘‘awful,’’ albeit more from fear that the spell will not work than from regret for having cast it.
When the women can see no sign of the lector among the many men wearing hats, Ofelia blames Marela’s spell for their misfortune. Marela is nervous with anticipation at the lector’s arrival, a nervousness that grows with each passing minute. Ofelia hopes that the lector will be able to detect the gardenia she wears in her hat. Marela, believing that her spell has ‘‘ruined’’ the lector’s arrival, vows to return home to remove his name from the glass of water. The lector, Juan Julian, having spied Ofelia’s white gardenia from afar, approaches the three women just as Marela prepares to leave. As Juan Julian introduces himself to the women, Marela, suffering from nervousness, wets herself. Rather than embarrass the young woman further with his presence, Juan Julian leaves to find the steward.
Act 1, Scene 2
Juan Julian reports to work to perform his first reading. Cheché asks a few questions of him before figuring out that Juan Julian is a lector. ‘‘If you’re looking for a job, we’re not hiring . . ., ’’ says Cheché. Juan Julian tries to convince Cheché that he is not looking for a job because he has already been hired. Ofelia arrives to clarify the situation.
Ofelia discusses with Juan Julian some of the other workers whom he has already met. All of these workers, who come from places such as Spain and Italy, share a desire for romance. When Juan Julian asks Marela about the man whom he has just met, she refers to Cheché by his American name, ‘‘Chester,’’ and calls him a ‘‘clown.’’ Ofelia, Marela’s mother, quickly corrects her, explaining Cheché’s relationship to the family and his arrival at the factory.
When Juan Julian suggests that Cheché does not like him, Ofelia dismisses this fear, saying that Cheché is intoxicated with the power her husband, Santiago, has given him. Conchita foreshadows the play’s outcome when she says, ‘‘Cheché has a knack for turning the smallest incident into a loud and tragic event.’’
The women take turns explaining that Cheché’s dislike of lectors is cultural: he does not understand the tradition of reading to the workers because he comes from New Jersey, so he dismisses the need for a lector completely. Furthermore, says Marela, Cheché believes that ‘‘lectors are the ones who cause trouble.’’
Marela offers that perhaps the real reason Cheché does not like lectors is because his wife, a ‘‘southern belle from Atlanta,’’ ran away with the last lector the factory hired. Ofelia believes that all lectors have been unfairly blamed as a result of Cheché’s experience. She tells Juan Julian to report any trouble to her husband.
Juan Julian announces that Anna Karenina (pronounced Ah-nah Kar-eh-neen-ah with a Cuban accent) will be his first selection. Juan Julian offers to read from another book when Marela learns that, in Juan Julian’s opinion, the book is ‘‘Quite romantic.’’ Marela believes that a love story will be good for Cheché, so she tells Juan Julian to continue.
Ofelia then engages Juan Julian in a conversation about how the landscape and climate in Tampa differs from that in Cuba. The sky seems bigger, and there is more light. ‘‘There doesn’t seem to be a place where one could hide,’’ continues Juan Julian. Juan Julian and Marela flirt and philosophize with each other as they discuss the many types of light that exist in the world. Marela concludes that the light reflected off the skin is ‘‘the most difficult one to escape.’’
In a comical scene, Cheché appears holding a shoe in his hand. He is trying to collect on the debt owed to him by his brother. Ofelia tells him that she cannot honor the debt because she has no money. However, Cheché does not want money; he wants his half of the factory.
Act 1, Scene 3
Juan Julian reads from Anna Karenina as he strolls among the workers, who are entranced by the sound of his voice as they handle the leaf tobacco. He reads a passage from the book, one told from the heroine’s perspective, that speaks of the shame and humiliation Anna feels for betraying her husband, yet the passion she feels for her lover, a passion which is returned in kind, is worth the price she must pay. Like a good storyteller, especially one who wishes to keep his job, Juan Julian ends the story shortly thereafter to heighten the element of suspense. ‘‘That’s all for today from Anna Karenina,’’ he says, greeted by the sound of applause.
Overcome by the passionate story Juan Julian has just read to them, Marela, Conchita, and Ofelia romanticize about the lector, referring to him as ‘‘the Persian Canary’’ because ‘‘it’s like hearing a bird sing when he reads.’’ Cheché makes some insinuating comments about how the women have fallen under the spell of yet another love story, saying that ‘‘For some reason I never hear the story the same way that you do’’; but they refuse to let him spoil the enchantment and enthusiasm they feel now that a professional lector is in their midst. Palomo, Conchita’s husband, enters the discussion, suggesting that perhaps the reason why he and Cheché don’t interpret the story the same way is because they are men. The men and women are divided in their opinions, but Ofelia, with the support of her two daughters, defends her decision to hire a lector. ‘‘Only a fool can fail to understand the importance of having a lector read to us while we work,’’ she says.
Cheché argues that having a lector at the factory will create ‘‘another tragic love story.’’ When Palomo admits to liking love stories, Cheché stands alone. Soon everyone talks about what type of stories they like and how Juan Julian’s reading has made the characters in Anna Karenina come alive. Marela dreams of snow and the images are so vivid that she wants to borrow a fur coat for when she travels to Russia in her imagination. ‘‘He chose the right book,’’ says Ofelia. ‘‘There’s nothing like reading a winter book in the middle of summer.’’
The men exit, and the women pore over some of the more passionate lines from the book. They discuss what it must be like to be part of a lover’s triangle, though the irony is not lost upon Conchita, who is thinking about her own life. The women conjecture about the characters’ actions, experiencing their problems vicariously. ‘‘When Juan Julian starts reading,’’ says Marela, ‘‘the story enters my body and I become the second skin of the characters.’’ Ofelia sees that her daughter is infatuated with the lector and chides her for letting her dreams run away from her. The women then discuss dreams and whether it is foolish to have them. ‘‘We have to remember to keep our feet on the ground and stay living inside our shoes and not have lofty illusions,’’ concludes Ofelia.
Marela and Ofelia are discussing the importance of a man’s cigar when Palomo enters. He and Conchita will be working late. Marela and Ofelia bid goodbye, and soon thereafter the couple discusses Santiago’s gambling habit. Conchita changes the subject by asking Palomo if he likes the novel that Juan Julian is reading to them. Conchita, eager to test her husband’s reaction, asks him if hearing about Anna’s affair makes him ‘‘uncomfortable.’’ Palomo responds by saying that he does not think about the love affairs so much because ‘‘It seems like in every novel there’s always a love affair.’’ Rather, he thinks about all the money the characters have. Conchita and Palomo get into an argument over his inability to appreciate literature. Palomo thinks that ‘‘Money can buy everything,’’ but Conchita says that money can’t buy the places she occupies within her imagination.
Their conversation turns toward their marriage. ‘‘I don’t know why I married you,’’ Palomo tells Conchita. She says he married her because she gave him a cigar, one she had rolled especially for him. Conchita continues to view the beginnings of their relationship romantically, but Palomo insists that he married her because of an unnamed obligation he owed to her father. Upon hearing this, Conchita realizes that Palomo never really cared for her. Seeking an outlet for her disappointment, she once again launches an attack against him for being unable to appreciate the finer points of literature. To drive home her point, she cites an episode from Anna Karenina in which Anna’s husband becomes suspicious of an affair; Conchita tests Palomo’s ability to comprehend the example. Palomo understands her implications completely. Conchita makes a direct comparison between their lives and those of the characters in Anna Karenina but with a twist of irony: ‘‘Anna and her husband remind me of us. Except I’m more like the husband.’’
Conchita chides Palomo about his ‘‘secret love,’’ drawing the analogy between art and life even further. She wants to know more about her husband’s mistress; she wants to know what she does to make him happy. Palomo responds by asking Conchita if she wants a divorce, but Conchita would prefer to take a lover instead. Palomo blames Anna Karenina for putting these ideas into his wife’s head, saying, ‘‘This book will be the end of us.’’ However, Conchita recognizes that her desires do not have to be absolute. She can learn to love her husband in a different manner than before. She quotes a line from the book: ‘‘If there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.’’
Act 1, Scene 4
In this comical scene at the family house, Ofelia and Santiago, who are not on speaking terms, conduct a conversation by using their daughter Marela as an intermediary. Santiago has no money to buy cigarettes, but Ofelia refuses to give him any money, calling him ‘‘a drunk, a thief and a-goodfor- nothing gambler.’’ After a few exchanges, they speak to each other directly. Santiago threatens to pawn his wedding ring, but Ofelia, in a barbed reply loaded with double entendre that speaks volumes about the state of their marital relations, says that he might as well since ‘‘his finger got numb.’’
Unable to tolerate her parents’ bickering anymore, Marela leaves. In an effort to mollify his wife’s wounded sensibilities, Santiago comments on the new lector’s performance, though he does not mention him by name. Reconciled temporarily by their interest in Anna Karenina, the couple discusses the qualities that make Levin ‘‘a dedicated man.’’ Ofelia remarks that her husband was once like Levin. The topic shifts from a real estate transaction in the book to control of the cigar factory, with Santiago admitting that drink impairs his business decisions. Ofelia warns him about Cheché’s attempts to mechanize production. ‘‘You need to go back to the factory,’’ she says. Santiago agrees, saying, ‘‘To the factory I need to go back.’’
Ashamed of his actions, Santiago admits to having been a fool. He refuses to leave the family’s house, however, until he is able to pay the debt he owes Cheché. Ofelia says that he’s being silly, but Santiago insists that this is what he must do to restore his self-respect. Santiago turns the subject to Levin again, asking Ofelia about the woman whom he loves, Kitty. Ofelia explains the love triangle that prevents Levin from winning Kitty’s love. Santiago, drawing inspiration from Levin’s fidelity to one woman, ‘‘swallows the gulp of love’’ as he fails to tell Ofelia his true feelings for her. Thus reminded of his inadequacies, Santiago explains his poor luck at gambling as the result of his failure to perform some small ritual such as polishing his shoes or leaving the house in disarray. ‘‘Every time I lose, I feel that something has been taken from me. Something bigger than money,’’ he says. Gambling has caused Santiago to lose self-respect, and he wonders if, perhaps, he hasn’t lost Ofelia too? ‘‘If you had lost me, I wouldn’t be here,’’ she tells him. ‘‘If you had lost me, I wouldn’t be by your side.’’ What begins as a comical scene ends on a romantic note.
Act 1, Scene...
(The entire section is 6486 words.)