One of the first challenges for graduate students in the Master of Fine Arts program comes in the form of mastering authentic cigar rolling and thorough knowledge of Tolstoy.
The very selective Master of Fine Arts program picks six graduate student applicants once every three years to participate in its program. This year the program is starting with six fresh students, and Purdue Theatre’s next play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Anna in the Tropics” is, for four of these new students, their first public performance together.
Set in 1929, primarily in a Cuban-American cigar factory located in Florida, Quick says the play portrays a world at the end of an era. The play revolves mainly around the old tradition of hiring lectors, or readers, both to educate and entertain the workers with books as they perform hours upon hours of meticulous work with their hands. When the lector starts reading the factory’s workers Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” their own lives start to mirror the book’s turbulent and intricate plot.
“The thing that has really struck us ... that is really hitting home now (is the) power of words, the power of language,” said Todd Quick, one of the graduate students and the actor playing Santiago. “To think that these people could have their entire lives sort of turned upside down by ... hearing the words of a book read aloud is a kind of exciting thing to think.”
“Anna in the Tropics” is also a debut for Robert Quinlan, the play’s director and a visiting assistant professor in the theatre department. Quinlan believes this play has been a very good first challenge for the graduate students.
“They’re a really strong group of actors,” Quinlan said. “I think this was a good first project because it’s so much about relationship. We were really able to dig into subtext and what is underneath the surface; there are a lot of emotions bubbling underneath in this play, so that was a good thing to explore in their first semester.”
Involving emotion and passion between characters, “Anna in the Tropics” is a play with a quick, snappy and emotionally dynamic tempo, Quick said. However, some of his favorite scenes are the opposite — slow and quiet, yet poignant.
“Throughout the course of the play, they create a new cigar brand,” Quick said. “There is a ritual when they smoke it for the very first time where everyone (in the company is part of) the ceremonial lighting of the first cigar ... It’s a very beautiful scene because everything else in the play goes so fast. It’s very passionate and loud, and then we get to this one moment where it’s just quiet, watching everyone breathe in and out.”
“Anna in the Tropics” opens at 7:30 p.m. today in the Carole and Gordon Mallett Theatre and will have performance at the same time on Nov. 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22 and 23. There will also be showing at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, 16, 23 and 24. This is a show with an R rating for sexual content, adult language and themes and, therefore, is recommended for those ages 17 and up. For tickets and more information, call (765) 494-3933 or (800) 914-SHOW, or go online at www.purdue.edu/theatre/tickets.