Seldom has a playwright plumbed the depths of the human heart and soul as thoroughly as Tennessee Williams. On the centennial of his birth, South Camden Theatre Company has devoted its entire seventh season to works by and about this great dramatist, closing with a stunning production of THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA.
This play, adapted from a short story, is considered Williams’ last Broadway success. It was nominated for, but did not win, the Tony Award for Best Play. The film version, directed by John Huston, starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr.
IGUANA opens on the veranda of a low-grade hotel on the coast of Mexico in the early 1940s. The hotel’s earthy, recently widowed manager, Maxine Faulk (Nicole DeRosa Lukaitis), greets a frequent visitor and friend, the Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Sean Close), in his usual state of mental agitation. Shannon, a former Episcopal priest, is now a tour guide who has just left a bus full of Sunday-School teachers who are unwilling to stop at the seedy-looking hotel. But Shannon has the bus key in his pocket. He still wears his cross, but was locked out of his church after a sexual indiscretion and a sermon in which he told the self-righteous congregation that their God was a “senile delinquent.” He is now in the same kind of trouble for the “statutory rape” of Charlotte Goodall (Jessica Foley), a teen-age singing prodigy. He seems to have a strong attraction for willing young females. Then Hannah Jelkes (Pamela Dollak), a fortyish New England spinster, arrives with her 97-year-old grandfather (Tom Juarez), “the world’s oldest practicing poet,” who is trying to complete his last poem. They have no money, but Shannon persuades Maxine to let them stay the night. There is an almost immediate bond, more spiritual than physical, between Shannon and Hannah. Eventually Shannon loses his busload of tourists and his job, has a mental breakdown and is tied up in a hammock. A family of German Nazis, guests at the hotel, laughs at his anguish, but Hannah comforts him and helps him get through the experience. Like the iguana that Maxine’s Mexican employees have captured for food and tied up, they—and the grandfather—are at the end of their rope. Yet they know that they have to go on.
A previous director of this drama once said, “This is a play about loneliness.” Although it is much more than that, it does deal with the ways in which people cope with their aloneness. Maxine does it by, as Tennessee Williams would say, “indulging her senses,” satisfying her needs with the Mexican boys and trying to entice Shannon. The latter is tormented by his sexuality, which he seems to feel has separated him from the God he tried to serve. Hannah has rejected sex, saying “It’s not for me,” but replaces it with loving concern for others.
The present director, Randall McCann, has drawn powerful performances from his cast. Close, as Shannon, makes you feel his desperation and pain. DeRosa Lukaitis is perfect as Maxine—sensual, sometimes callous, but very human. As Hannah, Dollak seems somewhat too girlish at first, but soon displays the strength and endurance of this beautiful character. Perhaps the most amazing performance is by Juarez as the aged poet. His makeup and portrayal are so convincing that it is almost shocking to learn from the program that he is a young man. All of the minor characters are well portrayed.
The set, designed by Robert Bingaman, is a fitting backdrop for the action with its garish colors and tropical foliage. The lighting design by Andrew Cowles is especially effective in the storm scene at the end of Act I. The incidental Mexican music, mariachi and otherwise, adds to the authenticity of the setting.
Just a couple of nit-pickings. Sometimes the actors are so emotionally involved that their voices become inaudible. Also, if the sack brought in by the Mexican boys holds an iguana, it must be a very small one.
All in all, it is difficult to do justice to this production. Perhaps Shannon’s favorite word, “Fantastic!” describes it best. Thanks to SCTC and Producing Artistic Director Joseph M. Paprzycki for bringing it to us.
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Randall McCann
April 20-May 6
South Camden Theatre Company
400 Jasper Street
Camden, NJ 08104
I didn’t think anything could top South Camden Theater Company’s “Suddenly Last Summer.” But they’ve done it again. “The Night of the Iguana” is wonderful.