Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Night of The Iguana"

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"Night of The Iguana"

by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Brendan Hughes

Set Designed and Built by Nathan Pyritz
Ighting Design by Njoanne Savage
Costume Design by Tracy Campbell
Sound Design by Ben Arons
Music Composed by Chris Colbourn
Prop Master Kay Moriarty
Stage Manager Paula Ramsdell
Assistant Stage Manager Pat Carroll

Herr Fahrenkopf..................................Marty Simmons
Frau Fahrenkopf..........................................Tori Davis
Wolfgang................................................Nathan Pyritz
Hilda..................................................Christine Savage
Pancho...................................................Keith Mascoll
Charlotte Goodall....................................Laura Napoli
Hank.............................................George Saulnier III
Nonno.................................................Stephen Turner
Jake Latta..................................John Edward O'Brien
Judith Fellowes....................................Paula J. Caplan
Hannah Jelkes....................................Lesley Chapman
Reverend Shannon......................................Joe Mazza
Maxine Faulk................................Dorothy Brodesser

There are some plays, there are some playwrights, there are some productions that will never be "finished". The Theatre Cooperative's production of Tennessee Williams' "Night of The Iguana" directed by Brendan Hughes is a perfect example. It is a clearly understood, deeply moving, continually surprising evening of tensions, releases, defeats and victories leaving an audience limp with awe. The company digs deep and shies from no interaction, and they could mine the play's meanings for months and still have more to find. More importantly, anyone in the audience who thinks they know the play is in for several surprises.

First of all, though the play is timeless, Williams set it in 1940, with a quartet of ebullient beer-quaffing Germans gaily laughing that their radio proclaims London is burning down. These four --- Marty Simmons, Tori Davis, Nathan Pyritz, Christina Savage --- flit through the action, but partake in none of it, separated by their language, their arrogance, and their indifference. It would be ridiculous to ask so many to work so hard for such bit-parts, yet it is a surprise, after to the show, to hear these actors speaking English.

Pancho is also separated by his language, by his hired-hand status, yet his place in bed with the widowed owner of this sleazy resort hotel allows him an unhurried disdain of anyone's orders, and Keith Mascoll sees to it his one-speed-forward is always low gear.

Hank, the driver of a tour-bus, is a very different sort of hired-hand --- and American with responsibilities who must stand between the irate and discomforted bus-load of Texas churchwomen and the tour-guide who hovers on the brink of self-destructive insanity. George Saulnier III can argue and reason and complain to both sides, but his sympathies must ultimately give way to saving his own job.

Less empathetic and much more practical is Jake Latta, another tour-guide sent by the company to salvage that bus-load of hysterical customers. John Edward O'Brien's brief appearance is much more than a walk-on role, since it lays open the guide's public humiliation and heaps upon him the contempt of the sane conformist for those falling victim to their own private spooks, the no-compromise cruelty of economic truth.

No less wounding, but much more wounded herself is Charlotte Goodall, whose sixteen-year-old innocence called forth the guide's wrathful insistence on showing her the less innocent underside of the real world. Laura Napoli expects permanent commitment from her first real love, and shatters to find she is but the last of an unfulfilling, unfulfilled succession of broken innocents.

Judith Fellowes is a wrathful pillar of Texas Bible-Belt rectitude and legalistic vindictiveness. Paula J. Caplan pours out her vituperative jeremiads on all the guide's personal and human shortcomings and failures as though every one were sins against the soul and only she entitled to cast the first of many jagged stones. She blames him for everything from statutory rape to price-gouging to inducing Montezuma's revenge and cannot endure the suggestion that she might, just might, harbor unadmitted lusts of her own inside her spinster's whited pieties.

Nonno, at nearly ninety-eight "our oldest living poet" enjoys his charmingly affable club-act as reciter of minor verse, between nodding naps and his mumbling attempts to complete his last, best bit of rhyme. Stephen Turner captures his gentlemanly manners, his frailty and blindness, as well as the crafty assessment of a crowd's readiness to pay a dry old cricket for his swan-songs.

Hannah Jelkes, his spinster grand-daughter and fellow honest cricket, is part of the complicated trio of protagonists at the center of this tropical drama. Lesley Chapman knows a soul in torment when she sees one, and the balm she offers --- by example as well as precept --- is acceptance. She is too proud not to beg, too strong to accept as a charity anything she can earn, and clear-eyed in her awareness of a life lived on the periphery of worldly joys and successes. A painter of quick-sketch portraits and watercolors to earn her keep she sees people deeply, quickly and honestly, and responds to all with equal honesty. She recommends one play the cards as dealt, rather than yearning for a re-deal that can never come.

Equally self-assured player of whatever cards come her way is earth-mother earth-widow Maxine Faulk, owner of the Costa Verde Hotel on the rain-forested west coast of Mexico --- the un-safe haven to which our tormented tour-guide runs every eighteen months to hide in a hammock and bandage his ever worsening crack-up. Dorothy Brodesser's presence is a solid, self-assured paperweight holding this tumultuous play on course. She knows early what the solutions must be, and listens with a wry smile to the writhing of the damned as they scramble for a bit of dignity in their flames. She takes her pleasures without shame or apology, winks at morality where money is concerned, and plays a waiting game with only occasionally ruffled self-assurance. Perhaps her long, comfortable marriage with her dead Fred taught her patient understanding, though even that can have its discontents, and she's willing to fight, dirty or fair, when she knows she has to.

At the un-still center of this tropical tornado is the Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, locked out of his first church after only one year and ever since taking busses full of Protestant spinster-ladies on tours of five of seven continents, with an occasional jog to the Costa Verde Hotel every year and a half or so to seek the solace of good old Fred and Maxine Faulk. Joe Mazza is a jagged bundle of extremes, like a bag of fireworks dumped on a bank of coals, spanging violently and unpredictably off in all directions at once, in-your-face explosive yet ineffectual, turning irony into stand-up shtick. He is capable of weakness with Maxine to lean on, calm in his reasoned duels with Hannah, but blazingly loud with Judith, scathingly contemptuous with Charlotte, indignantly smug with Jake --- and bested and broken by all of them. He allows himself only once or twice a heart-shattering instant of collapse.

Yet collapse he must, for the message of the play is not struggle, but resignation. Mazza knows this --- thanks to Brendan Hughes' direction everyone in this cast knows what they, and the play, are all about --- but he has yet to drive all that energy of his flailing outbursts under the surface so that their seething passions can smoulder in the calm and quiet moments as subtext rather than shout. It would help also if Mazza were to play Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon a little more often, and Mork from Ork a little less. Sometimes, in all his outward pyrotechnics, he ignores the ebbing heat inside.

The program insists this show takes nearly three hours, but its intense energy never slows, the journey is so absorbing as to feel timeless. And they are played out before loving detail. Nathan Pyritz designed, built, and painted a gaudily seedy hotel veranda fringed with plants and palms. And for the end of Part One Lighting Designer Joanne Savage and Sound Designer Ben Arons have created a violent tropical storm that suggests Yahweh Himself began His mythic career as a primitive Hebrew storm god.

I say again, this is a clearly understood, deeply moving, continually surprising evening of tensions, releases, defeats and victories, and Tennessee Williams is well served by this ensemble cast. But some plays, some playwrights, some productions, however moving, will never be finished, for there is, always will be, more.

Love,
===Anon.


"Night of The Iguana" (till 17 June)
THE THEATRE COOPERATIVE
Peabody House Theatre, 277 Broadway, SOMERVILLE
1(617) 625-1300

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