The action takes place in a cigar factory in Ybor City, Florida, circa 1929. You can feel the heat permeate the air as the new lector, a person hired by the factory workers to read books and newspapers to them, arrives from Cuba, bringing with him the sense of hope and possibility for something beyond the dreariness of their daily lives. The lector is the pivotal character in Nilo Cruz's poetic drama, Anna In The Tropics, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Seen on both the East and West coasts this fall, the production from the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ, transferred directly to Broadway's Royale Theatre, where it opened on November 16. Director Emily Mann collaborated with set designer Robert Brill, costume designer Anita Yavich, sound designer Dan Moses Schreier, and lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski to create a production that emphasizes the poetic nature of the play, in which the power of literature transforms the lives of the cigar factory workers forever. As he reads to them, they begin to imagine themselves far from the hot factory, and their personal hopes and aspirations come alive.
Brill's set features a long wall that cuts across the stage diagonally, creating the interior as well as exterior of the factory. “I could see that the set was very horizontal and called for dance-like lighting,” says Kaczorowski, who used sidelight from ETC Source Fours to create alleys of space parallel to the wall. To create the look of 1929, the LD opted for the sepia tints of old postcards, and the palette for the set runs the gamut from whites and beige to warm wood tones.
In Princeton, low frontlight (from 2kW Fresnels) provided gentle curtain washes on a tobacco-colored show curtain that was raised within the show portal and remained gathered above the set. The Fresnels also lit the space above the wall, adding a layer of saturated dark blue light (R83) to the air. This blue is about as dark as Kaczorowski's palette gets, with a great deal of white at a low, almost amber, intensity, and warm colors from orange to sunset tones. “You feel the heat from a metaphorical place as well as the hot Florida sultriness,” he says. To set a party scene in a more exterior locale, perhaps a courtyard at the factory, Kaczorowski added more blue and a little evening moonlight to support what he calls, 'erotic and romantic notions.”
Eighty percent of the play take place within the factory, and the lighting helps indicate shifts in time throughout the day and evening. Other locales, such as a cock fight, an upstairs apartment, and the dock are also identified with shifts in the lighting, from smaller pools of light to patterns of light filtering through shutters and creating a geometric shape on the wall. “The white wall is always present so that ambient light bounces around,” says Kaczorowski, who added smoke to the sultry atmosphere of the factory. At times, when the lector sits in a corner pool of light, the smoke swirls around him emphasizing his presence even though he is not really in the room.
On Broadway, Kaczorowski added instruments to the small rig he used in Princeton, including more color scrollers. “The wall shifted to less of an angle,” he points out. “There is also a blue sky drop with puffy white clouds above the set now, to give the playing area a little more breathing room.” With lighting equipment provided by Fourth Phase, the Broadway production is run on an ETC Obsession 1500, so that the disk from Princeton could be read by the console. “We have the same cues, the same music, and the same transitions,” says Kaczorowski, who followed the same structure in the lighting, yet added such things as cyc lights for the new sky drop.
For Kaczorowski, the most dramatic moment is the final scene of the play. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that this last scene comes after a gunshot. “A black gauze falls in, like a vertical wipe in the movies,” Kaczorowski explains. “The lights then come up and you see that everything has changed. Each character is now sitting behind his own table in a small, square pool of light.”
Throughout, Kaczorowski remained true to the poetic nature of the play. “I made a strong effort not to use too much detail, or lock it into a real place,” he says. “The sculpture of the wall creates a neutral, emblematic place, it is not literal or mundane. It is a very noncommittal space that allows the acting to carry the evening.”