BWW Review: THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA At Palm Beach Dramaworks
There are infinite ways to do Tennessee Williams "wrong". It's perhaps the most difficult part of any Williams production- the words are so ornately crafted and the characters are so full, that it's all too easy for a production to go horribly south. A director sees too much flash, an actor is too wrapped up in themselves, and on and on and on. The nuance.Luckily, I can always count on Palm Beach Dramaworks to finely tune the most delicate of pieces. The creative team of The Night of the Iguana, led by director William Hayes, along with a Tim Altmeyer-led cast, gave a sudden and much needed voice to a play many put on the back burner. Past the 1964 film, I doubt many of us often lend a lot of thought to Iguana. Which, perhaps, is why this production has endless potential that Mr. Hayes didn't squander. There is room for risk taking, however, that isn't filled- it often doesn't differ from any other solid mounting of the play, mostly likely for fear of hurting the material.
To be fair, it isn't as if it's a simple story. Iguana chronicles a day and night in the life of T. Lawrence Shannon, a tour guide/Reverend who, having been defrocked after the discovery of his affair with a sixteen year old girl, has hunkered down at a hotel on a Mexican beach owned by a friend, Maxine (played with unrelenting fervor by the fireball that is Kim Cozort Kay). Among some of the guests are an obnoxious German family, and a travelling painter and her grandfather- who impact Shannon in ways he could never expect.
Unfortunately, no production is without fault- Act One starts slow for the cast as a whole; your attention doesn't come cheap. It felt as if I was waiting for the show to begin fifteen minutes in. Yet once it truly begins, it burns with the slow, white hot fire every American Classic is clamoring for. Hypnotic energy leaks off the stage and into the audience like the flood at the end of Act One.Speaking of, the gorgeous set design by Michael Amico is the backdrop to a fresh yet classic take on the quasi-icon Shannon, played with grace by a dripping wet, loping and leaning Altmeyer. His performance went from pure beleaguered exhaustion to deranged panicking terror, and found its sweet spot somewhere in between. But the true magician of Iguana was Katie Cunningham's devastating Hannah Jelkes. Hannah's development from her first stiff entrance all the way to her final shining moment was the last corner piece in an enormous, solid color jigsaw puzzle of a play. The lengthy scene between the two at the end of Act Two was a show stopping and gut wrenching experience that shouldn't be missed.
The Night of the Iguana is an insight into the quest for human connection, and how different people seek, find, or lose it. In the end, that's what's most important to Williams. Hayes and Co. understood that and translated that base human craving beautifully onto the stage. What more could you really need?