Front Row Center
By Joan Warren
Night of the Iguana
The Night of the Iguana, written by Tennessee Williams, made its New York stage debut in late 1961. A movie version followed in 1964 with almost daily pre-released publicity. The film’s cast included Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr, among others, but the eyes of the world were on Richard Burton who had been embroiled in a scandalous love affair with Elizabeth Taylor, who was with Burton on location in Puerto Vallarta.
The story, set in the 1940’s, focuses on a disgraced Episcopal priest (“Shannon”) who was defrocked amid accusations of statutory rape. He suffers a mental breakdown and is now employed giving bus tours for a travel company. Struggling with his demons—booze, women and losing his faith—he is in a very fragile emotional state. While traveling through Mexico, he abandons the planned itinerary and instead goes to a run-down coastal posada owned by an old friend. Seeking a respite from emotional pressures and hoping to rid himself of his party, he discovers his old friend has died and his friend’s widow “Maxine Faulk” is struggling to run the place on her own. She immediately turns on her charms and blatantly pursues Shannon.
His tourists are a group of Baptist school teachers that include a 17-year-old “Carlota Goodall” who spends all her time trying to seduce Shannon, and Carlota’s aunt “Judith Fellows,” who accuses Shannon of seducing her niece. Determined to ruin him, she places a call to his employer. The only two hotel guests are “Hannah Jelkes” and her grandfather “Jonathan Coffin (Nonno)” They have no money, but Maxine allows them to stay after an appeal from Shannon. Traveling about, Hannah and Nonno support themselves by selling her paintings and his poetry readings to tourists. He has been laboring for years to compose a masterpiece and in the end completes his perfect poem. Shannon has another breakdown and has to be tied to a chair. Earlier in the day, an iguana is caught. After some insightful conversation with Hannah, Shannon relates to the frightened, trapped iguana and frees it, thereby symbolically setting himself free.
David McIntosh directed and Debra Bowers assistant-directed this LLT production. Their many talents brought together a very poignant, powerful story about struggle and redemption. The ramshackle beach-front hotel was realistically designed by Rob Stupple. The sound and storm effects and the ambient sounds of soft ocean waves, birds and crickets were the creations of J. E. Jack. The effective lighting was designed by Rick Bleier.
The role of “Shannon” was convincingly played by Bill McFadden. Displaying a gambit of emotions would be a challenge to any actor, but Bill made the transitions well and kept his character believable. Kathleen Morris portrayed the sassy, lusty, life-hardened “Maxine.” At times, her soft heart showed through and she never let up on the promise of love and better days ahead.
Jutta McAdam really got into her character of “Judith Fellowes,” a nasty, vengeful woman hell bent on destroying a man. This was her debut at LLT and we will be seeing more of her. The role of “Carlota Goodall” was performed by Abril Iniguez. The starry-eyed nymphet who wouldn’t take no for an answer was a credible role for someone so young and pretty. Jose Gambino Madrid and Gabriel Casillas took the roles of “Pedro” and “Pancho,” respectably. They both played cabana boys realistically. Although their lines were few, they were spoken in perfect Spanish.
Deborah Kloegman played “Hannah Jelkes” with grace and sensitivity. A chaste, middle-aged spinster, Hannah conveys wisdom and spiritual strength to Shannon. Roger Larson gave a stellar performance in his role as “Nonno.” His portrayal of a senile, frail old man nearing death and obsessed with his poetry was so realistic, you forgot this part was played by an actor.
The Dixie Swim Club is LLT’s next production running from March 27-April 5. Hope to see you at the theater!