Feature: NIGHT OF THE IGUANA with Tennessee Williams Threatre Company

Williams-focused production company opens 7th season with theme of Deadly

By: Mar. 21, 2023
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Feature: NIGHT OF THE IGUANA with Tennessee Williams Threatre Company
Lauren Wells as Maxine and Jake Wynne-Wilson as Shannon
Photo by James Kelley

The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company (TWTC) started its 2023 season with the Tennessee Williams classic, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, currently running at The Lower Depths Theatre at Loyola University in New Orleans through March 26.
The story of NIGHT OF THE IGUANA takes us to the continent's edge and explores the familiar Williams territory of sex, desire, dysfunction and despair by following defrocked-reverend-turned-tour-guide T. Lawrence Shannon on a trek through Mexico with travelers from a Baptist women's college. At a remote hotel run by Shannon's friend Maxine Faulk, he encounters hotel guest Hannah Jelkes, who helps him confront his longtime demons since "nothing human disgusts her." But will the fallen reverend find salvation and solace?
IGUANA is the first production in TWTC's seventh season, which centers on the theme Deadly. This season will see productions dealing with "the lasting harm and lethality of injuries left to fester as characters give in to their impulses and vices are left unchecked."
"I just think there is so much vice explored in Tennessee Williams, and that's what we're playing on in this season is the amount of vice," said TWTC's co-Artistic Director Augustin J. Correro, who is also directing the season opener. "We get to showcase a lot of danger this season. Williams wrote many plays about many topics, and while the stakes are often emotionally high, they're not necessarily as high stakes, life or death, as they are in the plays this season."
According to Correro, the theme of Deadly in IGUANA is seen when Shannon and all other characters have come to the end of the world with their backs against the wall, each hashing out severe problems and situations, whether internal or external. Like the titular Iguana, everyone is at the end of their rope, hoping to evade the impending machete.
"[IGUANA] is just such a wild story, and the title just dripping with kind of pulpy noir, almost horror vibes to it because that is not an expression, Night of the Iguana is not an expression," Correro said. "Escapism is one of the less sung but still ever-present themes in Williams, and the fear of capture is just as strong as that. And I think Night of the Iguana pushes both themes to their limits."

Feature: NIGHT OF THE IGUANA with Tennessee Williams Threatre Company
Justice Hues as Hannah and Jake Wynne-Wilson as Shannon
Photo by James Kelley

While the focus is on the vices found within the context of the play, Correro and his team also put a fresh perspective to it by updating the setting to a contemporary one.
"We brought it sort of into the modern age because, like with much good, older theatre, sometimes an update helps to jar the audience into realizing that these pieces, these characters, these situations are not so different than our everyday lives," Correro said. "Thinking of things that aren't a surprise, the instance of sexual misconduct by a clergyperson to a young person is still very much a thing. The fascists trumping around and making fun of people is still very much a thing. The idea of the death of poetry and beauty and romance in the world is still something we grapple with today. So, setting it in the contemporary time and taking it out from the eve of World War II just kind of shows it's the same problems on a different calendar year, and in this case, it's same fascists, different flag."
Correro also notes that they took care of the sense of place and allowed the Mexican characters more agency than they did in the original production.
"They were treated almost like two-dimensional minstrel concubines initially, and that is often the plight of characters of color when they are in a play of a certain time," Correro said. "So, we wanted to make sure we addressed that thoughtfully."
The cast includes Jake Wynne-Wilson, Justice Hues, James Howard Wright, Lauren Wells, Lizzy Bruce, Adriel Aviles, Lauren Van Mullem, Andrea Dube, Kyle Daigrepont, Matthew Raetz, Benjamin Dougherty, PJ Ruffins and Eduardo Turcios.

Feature: NIGHT OF THE IGUANA with Tennessee Williams Threatre Company
Justice Hues as Hannah and Jim Wright as Nonno
Photo by James Kelley

"This cast is absolutely incredible," Correro said. "It's a heavy lift, it's not a short show, and they punch the pace, knock it out of the park. Jake Wilson, as Shannon, captures the fury and anxiety and does a beautiful turn in on himself of exploration and finds a way to make self-loathing make sense and then redeems itself all in one night. Justice Hues is doing an incredible job as Hannah Jelkes, and I think they find notes I have never seen before. I have never seen a Hannah that made as much sense as Justice does."
NIGHT OF THE IGUANA premiered in 1961 and was the last commercially successful of Williams' works on Broadway. According to Correro, IGUANA was the last of his works that leaned into his earlier writings and "wasn't so experimental that it threw audiences for a loop." Correro noted how Williams and the market changed a lot at the time with the critical reception of his works after IGUANA, such as The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore and Small Craft Warnings.
"[They] were not the typical Broadway fare that your folks from all over the country would necessarily think to see when you think Tennessee Williams or Broadway," Correro said. "I think he would have found a great deal more success in his lifetime had he embraced the off-Broadway market a little bit more."
And it is with companies such as TWTC where the experimental works of Williams are receiving their due. The mission of TWTC focuses on "engaging the community and cultivating its relationship with Williams." One of the ways the company accomplishes this is by putting on productions of rarely produced Williams plays that see great success even when the critics were unkind during their Broadway debuts.
"Last year's Clothes for a Summer Hotel was considered by many audiences to be some of the strongest work we've ever done, and it was panned on Broadway, and I think simply because that wasn't the home for it," Correro said.
With six seasons already under its belt, Correro shared some lessons learned along the way that has added to the company's success in rewarding the audience and not being afraid of going against tradition.
"The audience will go with you anywhere, but you always got to keep them in the forefront, keep rewarding the audience, and take them along with you every step," Correro said. "Continuing to make immersive, challenging productions, I think, has been really important, and never doing anything because that's how it's always been done. In addition to representation mattering, I think that diverse people bring diverse experiences that make plays more interesting."
Other productions for 2023 include another summer production at the Marigny Opera House with Sweet Bird of Youth. The season will end with the rarely produced Williams play, Spring Storm. A grant from the New Orleans Theatre Association supports this TWTC season.
"We're excited for Doug Spearman and Sal Maninno to take the helm of Sweet Bird of Youth and Spring Storm, respectively," Correro said. "We've had an amazing time working with the staff, faculty, and students at Loyola University, where we have our residency. We've been just inundated with love and support after coming back from the pandemic. After the shutdown, we did five programs in one year, whereas we used to do three. So, the demand and hunger for theatre are there, and we never want to see that change."
Along with the current seventh season, TWTC has also created, in partnership with Marcus Shacknow, "Street to Stage: A Tennessee Williams French Quarter Walking Tour," a walking tour focusing on Williams' experiences in the French Quarter neighborhood, the LGBTQ+ scene he inhabited, and how he reflected these in his plays, short stories, poems and other writings. Two tours will be offered on March 24th and 25th at 5:30 p.m. in the French Quarter.


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