Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6486
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.’’
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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 5
Juan Julian, Marela, and Conchita are at the factory. Juan Julian says that he feels ‘‘asphyxiated’’ when he is in a city; he prefers to be in the country instead. He philosophizes on how people allow themselves to get away from nature. He sees the ‘‘verdure of nature’’ as a restorative force. Conchita agrees, asking him why he chose to read Tolstoy. Juan Julian responds by saying that ‘‘Tolstoy understands humanity like no other writer does.’’
Conchita asks Juan Julian how he became a lector. He explains that he discovered books one summer while he and his family were forced to remain inside their house in order to maintain the appearance that they had gone away on a trip. His mother would read to him and his siblings while his father worked abroad to earn money to repay his many creditors. That’s when, says Juan Julian, ‘‘I became a listener and I learned to appreciate stories and the sound of words.’’
Juan Julian and Conchita discuss how people from the North, like Cheché, are different from others. Conchita tells a story of how she gave a braid to a boy from New London and told him to bury it under a tree in honor of the feast of Saint Candelaria, which celebrates fertility and the growth of the soil. The boy said that he would be too embarrassed to dig a hole in front of everyone in the park, so Conchita took her braid back from him and buried it herself. The two never spoke to each other again. That, she says, is the only person she ever met who was from New England.
Juan Julian asks Conchita if she still observes the ritual of cutting her hair on the second day of February, to which Conchita replies, ‘‘Yes. My father does me the honor of burying it.’’ Juan Julian asks why her husband does not perform the ritual, for that would be ‘‘an honor for any man.’’ Juan Julian continues making his overture, saying that he would find ‘‘an old, wise banyan tree’’ and bury Conchita’s hair by the tree’s roots, but she says that she will cut her hair short like the film star Clara Bow, thus ending the ritual. Juan Julian says that he will find a ‘‘strong-looking tree,’’ although he reminds her that the ritual will not count if it is not performed on the appropriate date. ‘‘I believe that everything counts if you have faith,’’ she replies, adding that he, as a lector, should believe in ‘‘rescuing things from oblivion.’’ Juan Julian asks if there is a story in her hair. ‘‘There will be the day I cut it,’’ she explains, ‘‘and that story will come to an end.’’ If one may read the story of her hair as one reads a face or a book, then Juan Julian believes that Conchita’s hair should be placed inside a book instead of beneath a tree. He chooses a passage from Anna Karenina in which Anna realizes that she is deceiving herself. Conchita hands Juan Julian a pair of scissors with which to cut her hair, but soon they are locked in a tender embrace.
Act 2, Scene 1
The second act begins with Juan Julian’s recorded voice reciting a passage from Anna Karenina in which the narrator explores the ‘‘complexity’’ of Anna’s feelings as she reflects upon ‘‘all that was in her soul.’’ Meanwhile, Conchita and Juan Julian make love on one of the factory tables. Once they’ve finished and start to dress, Juan Julian tells Conchita that he would like to meet her someplace else, perhaps in a hotel. In an exchange in which both characters use strong metaphorical language to describe the other’s condition, Juan Julian notes a sadness in Conchita’s eyes after they make love; he recommends that she listen to a canary sing for five minutes a day to ease her sorrow. If she cannot find a canary, then he suggests that she listen to him sing while he’s in the shower. Their banter is interrupted when they hear the sound of Cheché arguing.
Cigar workers gather around Cheché as he tries to explain to Ofelia a piece of machinery he has ordered. Cheché insists that he be heard because he owns shares in the factory. Ofelia has someone fetch Santiago, with the hope that he will be able to put the matter to rest. Cheché persists, however, saying that all the other cigar companies have automated production. A debate ensues about the aesthetics of a hand-rolled cigar as compared to one rolled by machine. Cheché argues that progress is not only inevitable but a necessity, for the cigar factory is operating in the same manner it was decades ago. When Ofelia asks about the workers that machines have displaced, Cheché points out that machines need workers to operate them; therefore, very few jobs are lost. Palomo enters the discussion, but Cheché interrupts him when Palomo mentions a lector at a competing factory. ‘‘Ah, Leonardo is a lector!’’ says Cheché. ‘‘What does he know about machines?’’
Palomo defends Leonardo, saying that his friend upholds many fine traditions that machines would otherwise destroy. Cheché observes that lectors are the first to be fired from the factories because no one can hear them recite above the noise of the machinery. Cheché adds insult to injury by saying that he can see no reason why someone would want to contribute part of his or her wages to someone who reads romantic novels.
Marela defends the need for a lector, insisting that ‘‘the words he reads are like a breeze that breaks the monotony of this factory.’’ Juan Julian joins the discussion, citing the tradition of having a lector as going back to an ancient Taino custom, for the Taino Indians believed that tobacco leaves ‘‘whisper the language of the sky.’’ As a descendent of the cacique, or chief Indian, the lector interprets the words of the gods and brings them to the ‘‘oidores,’’ or listeners. Juan Julian concludes by suggesting that Cheché, whom he addresses as ‘‘Señor Chester,’’ spend more money on advertising rather than machines. ‘‘Or are you working for the machine industry?’’ he asks.
Ofelia supports the lector’s argument by saying that more advertising will help them sell more cigars. Juan Julian tells ‘‘Chester’’ that cigars have fallen out of favor with the public because people wish to emulate the many film stars who smoke cigarettes onscreen. ‘‘You can go to Hollywood and offer our cigars to producers,’’ Juan Julian tells him. He continues, saying that machines now dictate the pace of life to such an extent that no one has time for leisurely pursuits, much less nature. ‘‘So you see, Chester,’’ says the lector, ‘‘you want modernity, and modernity is actually destroying our very own industry. The very act of smoking a cigar.’’ All of the workers, except for Cheché and Palomo, applaud the lector’s comments. Juan Julian offers to leave the room so that the workers may vote, but Ofelia tells him that it’s obvious that they want him to stay. Juan Julian insists, however, upon deciding things ‘‘the democratic way.’’
Santiago arrives and is quickly apprised of the situation. He does not see the point of taking a vote if, in the minds of the workers, the matter has been settled. Ofelia says that taking a vote is ‘‘the American way,’’ but Santiago fails to comprehend her logic. He introduces himself to the lector, and shortly thereafter Santiago asks for a show of hands from those workers who wish to dispense with the lector’s services. Palomo and Cheché are the only ones who raise their hands. Santiago declares that Juan Julian shall stay. He then announces that the factory will begin producing a new brand of cigar and that Marela will pose as Anna Karenina for the cigar’s label. Santiago brings some clothes for her to wear, and she leaves to try them on.
Santiago demonstrates beyond question that he is in charge of the factory when he delivers a short speech telling the workers that much work and a brighter future lie ahead. The workers applaud and leave the factory. Santiago then hands Cheché an envelope filled with money, thereby settling his debt. Even though he no longer owns a share of the factory, Cheché objects to the production of a new cigar line, citing the exorbitant price of tobacco in Cuba. Santiago refuses to hear Cheché’s arguments, ordering him to return the machine to the manufacturer. He asks his brother to fetch him a calendar, for Santiago must now calculate a schedule of payments for a loan that he needs to launch this new line of cigars. ‘‘This time I’m betting my money on the factory,’’ he says.
Santiago does not understand Cheché’s habit of crossing out days on the calendar before they have expired. He sees this as a sign of ‘‘apprehension, anxiety and even despair.’’ Cheché confesses that he can no longer tolerate working at the factory because every attempt he makes at modernizing production is turned away. Santiago does not believe that this is the sole reason for his brother’s discomfort, and Cheché responds by saying that he still thinks of his Mildred, his wife who ran away with the previous lector. He admits to Santiago that Juan Julian’s presence reminds him of how he was cuckolded.
Marela enters, modeling the clothes her father gave her. ‘‘You’ll make a great Anna,’’ he tells her, and then he leaves to find a flower for her hair. Marela’s beauty arouses Cheché’s ardor. ‘‘You look beautiful,’’ he tells her just before Juan Julian joins them. He also comments on her appearance, but he has forgotten his book and leaves to retrieve it, leaving Marela and Cheché alone.
Cheché, noticing that Marela seems to have been daydreaming more than ever lately, comments on the quality of her work. As always, Cheché blames the lector for problems at the factory. ‘‘You have to pay less attention to the reader and more attention to what you’re doing,’’ he says. Marela refuses to let Juan Julian become a scapegoat by pointing out that he reminds Cheché of his wife every time he reads from Anna Karenina. Cheché stands his ground, however. He accuses Marela of taking shortcuts, and he shows Marela some of the faulty cigars she has wrapped. Marela attempts to dismiss Cheché’s accusations with laughter, but she stops short when she sees him looking at her with longing in his eyes. He caresses her hair, but she moves away from him. After admitting that the lector reminds him of his wife, Cheché tries to kiss Marela, but she pushes him away, warning him to never touch her again.
Act 2, Scene 2
While isolated from the scene’s action, Juan Julian recites a passage from Anna Karenina that describes Anna’s husband’s naïveté. Meanwhile, Conchita is rolling cigars at her table when Palomo enters and asks her what time she meets her lover. Conchita does not deny the accusation. Palomo wants to know if her lover reads to her, and Conchita says that he does when she looks sad. She tells her husband that, in order for her to get used to her lover’s body, she must make love to him repeatedly; her lover insists upon it. ‘‘He says things a woman likes to hear,’’ she adds without malice. Palomo wants to know more about his wife’s sex life, and she complies by providing him with salacious details that he seems to enjoy vicariously. Palomo attributes his curiosity to a change he’s noticed in Conchita, and he begins his questioning again by asking if the lector ever asks about him. ‘‘Yes,’’ replies Conchita. ‘‘He wanted to know why you stopped loving me.’’
Despite having taken a lover, Conchita still loves her husband. She describes what it was like making love to the lector as though he were her husband. ‘‘It was terrifying,’’ she says, because ‘‘everything seemed so recognizable, as if he had known me all along.’’ Palomo then asks Conchita to show him how the lector made love to her, and she responds by saying, ‘‘You would have to do as actors do’’; that is to say, he would have to surrender. ‘‘You would have to let go of yourself and enter the life of another human being, and in this case it would be me,’’ she tells her husband. Juan Julian closes the book as Conchita leads her husband to her trysting place within the factory.
Act 2, Scene 3
Santiago and Ofelia preside over the new cigar brand’s inauguration as workers dressed in their finest clothes arrive at the factory. Bottles of rum and glasses are passed around. The couple shares a toast with Juan Julian, and then the three of them exit. Palomo tells Cheché, another man whose wife has had an affair, that he can’t stop thinking about Conchita and her lover. Cheché recommends that Palomo move to North Trenton to start a new life and work at one of the cigar factories there. ‘‘And there are no lectors and no good-for-nothing love stories,’’ he adds.
Juan Julian asks Palomo to help him with the lanterns, and the two men soon engage in a conversation about love stories. Juan Julian accuses Palomo of trying to have him fired, but Palomo says that he’s curious to know how the novel ends, so Juan Julian shouldn’t take his actions personally. Cheché, knowing that Juan Julian is having an affair with Conchita, asks the lector if Anna’s husband ever thought of killing his wife’s lover. Juan Julian says that Anna’s husband, being a man of power and influence, would rather avoid a scandal than resort to such desperate measures. When Palomo asks the lector which character in the novel he identifies with most, Juan Julian replies, ‘‘I like them all. I learn things from all of them.’’ Palomo wants to know more about Anna’s lover, especially about what made Vronsky become interested in her. Juan Julian is well aware of Palomo’s insinuations, and he explains that Anna came to Vronsky because ‘‘she thought that he could help her.’’ Juan Julian adds that Vronsky could help her find love and to ‘‘recognize herself as a woman all over again.’’ Through Vronsky, Anna learns ‘‘a new way of loving . . . that makes her go back to the lover over and over again.’’
Santiago and Ofelia enter, and they are joined by Conchita, who accepts their invitation to have a drink. The women have a playful argument about Conchita’s paisley dress which, Ofelia says, makes her daughter look like an old woman. Palomo disagrees, saying that the dress makes Conchita look more ‘‘bohemian.’’ When Juan Julian comments on Conchita’s dress, Palomo becomes more possessive of his wife and puts his arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him.
Juan Julian wants to know why alcohol is prohibited in America. In an unintentional play on words, Santiago says it is because Americans ‘‘are not socialists when they drink.’’ Palomo then compares alcohol to literature because ‘‘Literature brings out the best and the worst part of ourselves. If you’re angry it brings out your anger. If you are sad, it brings out your sadness.’’ Ofelia, slightly tipsy from the rum, says that alcohol is prohibited because ‘‘most Americans don’t know how to dance.’’
Santiago proudly removes the new cigar from his shirt pocket and makes a short speech telling everyone about the product’s specifications. Marela enters dressed in a long black gown like the one Anna wears on the night of the ball, and everyone comments on how beautiful Marela looks. Ofelia performs the honor of lighting the first cigar, and then a ritual is observed whereby the cigar is passed from one person to another through an intermediary so as to facilitate communication with the gods. Everyone gives the cigar high praise. When his turn to pass the cigar arrives, however, Palomo disregards the ritual by handing the cigar directly to Juan Julian—an obvious slight. Juan Julian, rising above the insult, smiles and makes a gesture of supplication to the gods before taking a puff.
‘‘We do have a cigar, señores! We have a champion!’’ announces Santiago. Marela proposes that they hand out free cigars in the street, but, rather than go bankrupt, Santiago offers that they fire a gunshot instead because, according to him, ‘‘No inauguration is complete without the breaking of a bottle or a gunshot.’’ They settle on three gunshots as the proper number, and soon everyone leaves to go outside.’’ Palomo grabs Conchita by the arm before she can leave and, in a pique of jealousy, accuses his wife of falling in love with the lector. ‘‘Maybe just as much as you are,’’ Conchita replies, for why else would Palomo want to know so much about him? ‘‘I don’t like men,’’ Palomo answers as the sound of a gunshot and laughter reverberate. Palomo explains his interest by saying that it stems from the ‘‘old habit’’ of listening, but Conchita does not accept this explanation. ‘‘You’re right there’s something else,’’ admits Palomo. ‘‘And it’s terrible sometimes.’’ Conchita, aware that her suspicion about her husband’s sexual orientation may indeed be correct, says, ‘‘Then nothing makes sense to me anymore.’’ The couple hears another gunshot and more laughter as Palomo insists that his wife tell her lover that she wants to ‘‘make love like a knife.’’ Conchita wants to know why Palomo would choose a knife for a symbol, and he says it is because ‘‘everything has to be killed.’’ Another gunshot goes off before Juan Julian and the rest of Conchita’s family reenter the factory.
Ofelia, who has had much to drink, then tells a story of how when she was seventeen she was forced to model for a guava marmalade label rather than offend her mother by posing for a cigar label and causing a scandal. Everyone has a good laugh at Ofelia’s expense, herself included.
Ofelia and Santiago exit, as do Conchita and Palomo, but Marela remains behind to speak to Juan Julian. Marela, full of joy, confesses that she does not want the night to end. At first Juan Julian believes that she has had too much to drink, but then he realizes that Marela is truly happy. Meanwhile, Cheché watches them from afar. Marela and Juan Julian flirt with each other, using poetical, metaphorical language. Alluding to the affection she feels for Juan Julian, Marela tells him, ‘‘But we are all blind in the eyes of those who can’t see.’’ The two share nothing more than a caress before they say goodnight. As she is preparing to leave, Marela asks Juan Julian to lend her the book. He has forgotten that he is carrying the book in his hand and does not hand it over until she promises not to read ahead.
As Marela reads a passage out loud, Cheché emerges from his hiding place, full of lust and desire for Marela. She closes the book before he grabs her by the arm. The lights fade, leaving what happens next to speculation.
Act 2, Scene 4
Conchita and Palomo are at the factory the day after the celebration. Cheché is nowhere to be found, and a delivery boy is waiting to be paid. Palomo is about to take inventory, but Conchita says that she must first clean up the mess from the party before she can help him. Ofelia and Santiago arrive, and Santiago too wonders where his brother is. Santiago thinks that Cheché is late for work because he suffers from a hangover, as Santiago does. Marela arrives for work wearing a coat, her pockets ‘‘full of December, January and February.’’ Ofelia worries that something is wrong with her daughter, but Marela assures her that she is fine.
Marela returns Juan Julian’s copy of Anna Karenina to him when he arrives. Juan Julian notices her coat but does not comment on it. Palomo wonders if Cheché has come in, but still there is no sign of him. Juan Julian begins by reading a passage about a duel. As the lector reads to the workers, Cheché enters without a sound, his head ‘‘heavy with dark thoughts.’’ The passage the lector is reading explores the thoughts of Anna Karenina’s husband as he prepares himself for a duel. Meanwhile, Cheché, lurking in the background, pulls out a gun. Cheché shoots Juan Julian, firing twice, the gunshots echoing throughout the factory. The lector falls to the floor as the shocked workers look to see where the shots came from. Marela touches Juan Julian as he lies dying.
Act 2, Scene 5
Three days after the shooting, the workers are back at their tables rolling cigars. As a gesture of mourning, Marela still wears her coat. Ofelia cannot bear the silence that has resulted from the lector’s absence. ‘‘It’s as if a metal blanket has fallen on us,’’ she says. Palomo compares the silence to the one that followed the death of Teodoro, but Ofelia says that this silence is louder ‘‘because Juan Julian died before his time, and the shadows of the young are heavier and they linger over the earth like a cloud.’’ Marela suggests that she once again write his name on a piece of paper and put it in a glass of sugar water so that Juan Julian’s spirit will know that it is welcome at the factory. Tears falling from her eyes, Marela insists that this would not be a wrong thing for her to do. She awaits a response from her mother, but Ofelia remains silent. Marela insists that it is the responsibility of the living to look after the dead ‘‘so they can feel part of the world. So they don’t forget us and we could count on them when we cross to the other side.’’
Conchita suggests that they should continue reading, but she does not know if she has the courage to do so herself. Ofelia extends an invitation for someone to read, and Palomo accepts. Ofelia wishes to get rid of ‘‘this silence and this heat.’’ Santiago, however, suggests that they read something other than Anna Karenina, but Marela insists that the book should be finished. Conchita adds, ‘‘Stories should be finished or they suffer the same fate as those who die before their time.’’
Palomo opens the book and looks at Conchita as he prepares to read a passage about Anna Karenina’s husband and an important decision he has reached. Palomo looks up from the book and stares at Conchita as he reads the following line: ‘‘In his letter he was going to write everything he’d been meaning to tell her.’’