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A CurtainUp Review
Night of the Iguana
Many critics consider this play about T. Lawrence Shannon, an Episcopal minister who has been locked out of his church for "fornication and heresy," Williams' most autobiographical— if not factually, then spiritually. But directors who get too overwhelmed by such considerations can easily fall into traps of self-indulgence.
Shannon is an alcoholic who has lost his faith and is pursued by demons and desires that frequently conquer him. When the play opens, he is supporting himself by conducting bus tours and trying to keep a group of Baptist women from commandeering the bus while he collects himself at the seedy Costa Verde Hotel.
At this hotel in Mexico, Shannon reconnects with an old flame, the hotel's recently widowed owner, Maxine Faulk, a loud, lusty American who has no demons because she has no morals. Then he meets Hannah Jelkes, a spinster who is traveling with her 97-year-old grandfather, "Nonno" or more formally Jonathan Coffin, "the world's oldest living and practicing poet."
If Faulk is a bold and shameless con artist, Jelkes is a gentler version of the same breed. She and her grandfather make a living selling his third-rate poetry and her third-rate character studies and watercolors. They ply the tourist trade the way a prostitute might work a crowded bar. The question Williams poses is which one can save Shannon, the prim spinster who has eschewed sexuality, or the sensual widow who lusts after him?
T. Schreiber Studio's production, directed by the veteran teacher and director Terry Schreiber, is commendable for many reasons. It features a fantastic set by George Allison, which turns the entire theater into a tropical rainforest by seating the audience under a thatched roof and placing tropical plants by the entrances and exits. Tropical birds, unseen by the audience, punctuate the production with their song.
But equally effective, this Night of the Iguana features a cast of actors who slip easily and effortlessly into their roles. Derek Roche gives The Reverend Shannon the cracked voice and jerky motions that are the hallmark (at least on stage) of a man on the edge. Denise Flore as Hannah Jelkes and Janet Saia as Maxine Faulk are both formidable opponents for Shannon's attention, if not his heart.
Even the supporting cast — the rowdy German tourists (Loren Dunn, Jenny Strassburg, Bruce Colbert, Gail Willwerth Upp), the infatuated Charlotte Goodall (Alecia Medley) and her chaperone, the irate Mrs. Judith Fellowes (Pat Patterson) — make valuable contributions to the show.
Schreiber's addition of an erotic dancing of the two houseboys, Pancho (Armando Merlo) and Pedro (Guito Wingfield) at the beginning not only struck me as unnecessary but seemed to make an already long play in a very close space seem longer. However, Tennessee Williams fans won't want to miss this production, and those who've never seen Night of the Iguana may find it to be just their cup of tequila.
Editor's Note: For more about Tennessee Williams and links to his plays (including three other Iguana productions, see our Tennessee Williams Backgrounder. . .and check back at the end of the week for our review of the first all black production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide