note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Tennessee Williams almost always pits the dreamer against the realist and the realist invariably triumphs. In "Night of The Iguana" two women and one hyperventilating teenager vie for the affection of one tormented man. Happily, the Theatre Cooperative's new production treats us to two strong female leads and a string of fine supporting performances.
Williams gives us one realist in the character of Maxine, the recently widowed proprietress of a broken down hotel, and two dreamers in a debauched minister (Shannon), who comes to Maxine for refuge, and a genteel but destitute spinster who needs a place for her and her grandfather to rest. Maxine is driven by her desire to replace her husband with the reverend --- Williams even has Maxine give Shannon her husband's shoes to not so subtly drive home her intentions. The more "sympathetic" relationship, Williams tells us in so many words, is really the one between Shannon and the soft spoken spinster.
Director Brendan Hughes' lush production highlights the highly charged struggle between the two women, playing up his symbolism. Even the set drips with atmosphere. Designed by Nathan Pyritz, the cabana-style hotel stretches across a veranda ringed by claustrophobic rooms, framed by a gigantic palm which shoots right through the roof. Just as the set becomes a character, the secondary roles give "Iguana" a genuine authenticity.
Dorothy Brodesser is a Maxine bent on getting her way, using her wiles and her will. She cools Shannon's fevered brow with the sensual application of ice one moment and trusses him up like an animal when he gets the heebeejeebees.
Leslie Chapman as Hannah is, of course, Maxine's opposite. Chapman plays her as a lady with an inner serenity and an outward compassion, which captivates Shannon's imagination. Joe Mazza plays the minister like a wiry, hyped-up stand-up comic for most of the play ... certainly a daring choice, but one which undercuts any sympathy we might have for him. Only his heart to heart scene with Hannah generates any warmth.
Stephen Turner gives a lovely, gentle performance as a 97-years-young "minor poet"; with a minimum of gestures he conveys the sweet, tired soul whose life work has always been his poetry. Laura Napoli brings a palpable desperation to the role of the teenager seduced by Shannon --- a refreshing change from the usual nymphet interpretation. Paula J Caplan, too, gets inside her battle-axe role, making her funny and frightening at the same time. Four Germans are usually relegated to amusing window-dressing status, but here Hughes reinforces Williams' political point. Marty Simmons, Tori Davis, Christina Savage and set designer Pyritz man you sit up and take notice what is going on in the world --- and their German is echt. Hughes makes all these characters live inner lives. Kudos to Keith Mascoll's seething Pancho, George Saulier III's flummoxed Hank, and John Edward O'Brien's smug Jake.
Joanne Savage's evocative lighting and the summer heat conspire to make you believe you're in Mexico, Tracy Campbell's costumes reflect the personalities of their wearers, long and flowing for Hannah, low and revealing for Maxine. Ben Arons' sound effects and Chris Colbourn's music, too, whisk you away to the long, hot summer nights where sense falters and dreams collide with reality.