IGUANA Comes to Life at Stagecrafters

by Walter Bender

Stagecrafters in Chestnut Hill opened on Friday with its latest offering, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA by Tennessee Williams. Mr. Williams is arguably our country’s greatest playwright, responsible for creating some of the most beautiful and extremely difficult characters for actors to portray. Many of the characters in Mr. Williams’ plays are based upon people he knew in his life, which explains the many beautiful and broken females, and the rough, almost primal males.

Bonnie Lay Grant, Christian Lepore -- Photo by Sara Stewart

Bonnie Lay Grant and Christian Lepore share the stage in The Stagecrafters’ production of THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, running in Chestnut Hill, PA through October 3. (Photo credit: Sara Stewart)

IGUANA takes place on a veranda at the Costa Verde Hotel in Mexico in 1940. The hotel is somewhat seedy and ramshackle, and is owned and operated by Maxine Faulk (Bonnie Lay Grant) who is recently widowed. Maxine is crude, loud, and lusty, and Ms. Grant portrays her with great enthusiasm. She is soon joined at the hotel by Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Christian Lepore), a former minister who now is a tour guide for a second-rate travel company. Shannon is on the verge of a breakdown (a departure from the traditional Williams male protagonist) and is desperate to keep his tour group of 11 Baptist music teachers there, as he fears that he may lose his job due to a liaison with a younger member of the group, Charlotte Goodall (Corrine Hower.) Charlotte is chaperoned on the trip by Miss Fellowes (Ginny Kaufmann), a rather butch woman who is furious with Shannon both for being forced to come to this hotel and for her suspicions of the encounter with Ms. Goodall. They are soon joined by Hannah Jelkes and her grandfather Nonno (Cathy Gibbons Mostek and Bob Forman.) Hannah is an artist, Nonno a poet, and they travel together, living by their talents and their wits. There is an immediate connection between Shannon and Hannah, which threatens Maxine’s plans to keep Shannon at the hotel for her own needs.

Lepore does a fine job with the character of Shannon, showing the increasing mental deterioration as he struggles with the many women at the hotel. Ms. Moster portrays Hannah as a strong woman (a very different Williams heroine) with a deeply hidden vulnerability. Mr. Forman’s Nonno was spot on, portraying a man at the end of his life, hanging on to finish his final work. Hower as Charlotte and Kaufmann as Miss Fellowes were effective, their characters pushing Shannon closer to his inevitable breakdown. Mike Gannon and Sharry Brown as Herr and Frau Fahrenkopf (a German couple vacationing at the hotel) provided sometimes over-the-top comic relief to the proceedings. James Hearn (Hank Latta), Greg Pronko (Pedro) and Matthew C. Thompon (Pancho) filled out the cast ably.

Director Yaga Brady handles this cast and the material well. There is an inherent difficulty in Williams’ plays in keeping the pace up. Ms. Brady keeps things moving nicely, with only a couple lulls in the pacing. Her interpretation of the material was interesting, showing different sides of the traditional Williams characters, yet not straying beyond the limits of the story. And, she brings out the “hidden character” of every Williams play�the unending heat, both the temperature of the environment and the smoldering sensuality of the characters. The set was very effective, giving the audience a sense of the rustic nature of the hotel and the steamy environment. The costuming was well done, accentuating the essence of each character in a very subtle manner.

Tennessee Williams’ plays are underperformed in the theatre world. Stagecrafters did a wonderful job with this production. NIGHT OF THE IGUANA is one of the lesser-known works, and it was a pleasure to see it done so well.

by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Yaga Brady
September 17 – Oct 3, 2010

The Stagecrafters
8130 Germantown Avenue
Chestnut Hill, PA

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