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A CurtainUp Review
The Night of the Iguana
By Dave Lohrey
Somebody at the Fountain Theatre likes Tennessee Williams and it's a damned good thing. The theater's Summer and Smoke won the 1999 Ovation Award. This year's production of The Night of the Iguana is as good if not better. Both productions were directed by The Fountain's resident director, Simon Levy.
This excellent revival begins with a cast that has sufficient range to dig beneath the surface, while at the same time embodying the stereotypes Williams has created. The three leads rarely disappoint and often triumph. Larry Poindexter's Shannon has prepared thoroughly, leaving the actor with the confidence he needs for what is known to be a demanding role. Although possibly too young and too handsome for the role of the down-and-out minister-turned-tour guide, Poindexter delivers a performance of sustained agitation and emotional vitality. His good looks only distract when the audience is asked to believe at the end that Maxine and her run-down hotel is the best he can do. We are instead inclined to think that he might take the next bus to Acapulco.
Karen Kondazian plays the lusty Maxine well, persuasive in her desperation to keep Shannon on a tight leash, while serving her deadly brew of rum cocoas. Marvelously raven-haired, Ms Kondazian has the right look of Mediterranean voluptuousness to both lure and repel the tormented Shannon. The actress also presents a dimension of sadness and vulnerability that ties her to Williams's long line of heart-breaking vamps.
The reunion of Shannon and the recently widowed Maxine would quickly lead to consummation were it not for the intrusion of Hannah (Jacqueline Schultz) and her "ninety-year-young" grandfather, played here by the brilliant Jay Gerber. Hannah, a New England spinster, must be strong enough to stand up to Maxine. The actress who plays this role must persuade the audience that what she has hidden is as tempting to Shannon as what Maxine leaves exposed. Remarkably, Ms Schultz carries herself with a regal air, at once shy, at times haughty, but always seductive.
Gerber's Nonno, the oldest living poet, is perfectly realized. Especially notable was Gerber's ability to move seamlessly between helpless frailty and an overbearing bossiness. He must both torment and inspire. We need to see what it has cost Hannah to accompany her charming, selfish relative; we need to see why Hannah relates to Shannon's desperation and loneliness. Gerber, who stunned audiences last year as Shelley Levine in Glengarry Glen Ross, gets every move right, proving once again that he is without question LA's finest character actor.
Essentially a melodrama, The Night of the Iguana can easily fall victim to over-acting. Luckily, Simon Levy and his actors have kept this to a minimum. The good-ol-boys Jake Latta (Michael Edwin) and Hank (Chet Grissom) play up their parts without going too far, though the same can't be said for Irene Rosseen who plays the inflamed Miss Fellowes. Her performance is allowed to introduce an unwelcome comic note by her exaggerations in gesture and word. The rest of the ensemble performs adequately, although it is not clear what the director seeks to suggest by having Pedro and Pancho lie about in each other's arms.
The Fountain Theatre has proven itself again as the right venue for Tennessee Williams, an author inexplicably neglected in Los Angeles by the big boys. But if The Taper and The Geffen have lost interest in American classics, perhaps it is just as well. It is hard to believe they would get a better hearing than that currently offered by Simon Levy and his stellar cast.
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