Summary: A Cuban family owns a cigar factory in Tampa, where they employ lectors to read from the classics (notably Anna Karenina) while cigars are hand-rolled. Tension exists between those who are loyal to the old way of doing things and those who believe the company could be more productive with the use of machines and the dismissal of lectors. The “out with the old, in with the new” tension also carries over to individual marriages in the play—especially between Conchita and Palomo, who have decided that they may not be in love anymore. Consequently, Conchita begins having an affair with Juan Julian, the newest lector.
Thoughts: I’ve had this play on my shelf since it was published and have never read it. Moreover, I’ve actively avoided reading it for this project and I really have no idea why. Well, wait. In 2003, a person whose literary opinion I didn’t hold in high esteem wouldn’t stop talking about it the summer after it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. How dumb. Seven years after my stubbornness, I found Cruz’s work moving and his use of language was extremely impressive.
The play had tough competition for the Prize in 2003: fellow nominees were Take Me Out and The Goat; plays that deal with homosexuality and bestiality, respectively. This play is an interesting examination of the Cuban immigrant experience and the combined pressure to assimilate and need to preserve family and culture. While the play is set in 1929, Cruz's handling of fairly universal themes makes the play a quick and highly relevant read. Additionally, Cruz uses both large chunks of Tolstoy’s work as lines for the lector to read, and also short lines of Tolstoy's work seamlessly woven into dialogue. While the classic work undoubtedly serves its purpose in the script, some of the choices are perhaps too deliberately heavy handed (Anna Karenina is in a forbidden relationship, and so is the lector. And this is repeated again and again).