Strangled In the Heat

No effort was spared in recreating the tropical feel of the Mexican coast in this current incarnation of Tennessee Williams’ The Night Of The Iguana at T. Schreiber Studios. George Allison’s lush set – which includes a thatched hut, exotic plants and actual rainfall – steamily ushers the audience into a world of lonely people fighting for their psychic lives in the heat of summer at the dilapidated Costa Verde Hotel. As a whole, the cast fares well over the course of this lengthy but well-directed show, which, like many of Williams’ later plays, examines the polarity between man’s bestial desire and his spiritual longing.

The lusty widow Maxine Faulk (a feisty Janet Saia) tends to the Costa Verde and copes with her husband’s recent death with the help of rum-cocos and romps with her hard-bodied houseboys, Pedro and Pancho. Rapacious and practical, it is clear from the start of the play that Maxine is determined to survive.

Perched more precariously on the divide between earthly hunger and spiritual striving is clergyman-on-the-verge Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (the frenetic Derek Roche). An expelled minister turned travel guide, Shannon shows up at the hotel with a hijacked tour group of Baptist music teachers and a bus key that he refuses to surrender. Among the disgruntled traveling party is an irate church chaperone (Pat Patterson) -- prone to spitting out the word “defrocked” at the Reverend -- and her besotted underage prodigy (Alecia Medley,) whom Shannon has recently deflowered.

At any given lull, the Verde's lazy veranda is punctuated by a swarm of beefy and overbearing (remember the play is set in 1940) German tourists who heartily sing, slap and lift each other. Here as elsewhere, costume design by Karen Ann Ledger is precise and colorful.

Last to arrive are Nantucket spinster and gypsy portrait artist Hannah Jelkes (a touching Denise Fiore) and her distinguished grandfather, a 97-year old poet-on-demand (the lovely Peter Judd). This pair of creative hucksters, with a history of parlaying their artistic gifts into world travel on the pay-as-you-go plan, are at the end of their joint financial rope. With empty coffers, they have no choice but to appeal to the Widow Faulk to house them for the evening on credit.

In contrast to Maxine, the demure Hannah (whose exchanges with Shannon constitute much of the second act) would have Shannon return to his original spiritual leanings. At one point she tells him, “I respect a person that has had to howl and fight for his decency and bit of goodness much more than I respect the lucky ones that had theirs handed out to them at birth.” Fiore steals the show with her quiet understatement and deep sense of stillness, especially in this climatic scene.

Roche also does a soulful job throughout the play, especially in his more intense passages. Yet, while one feels Shannon’s spiritual thirst quite specifically in Roche's portrayal, one never quite feels that white-knuckling alcoholic thirst of the Black-Irish-on-the wagon that is intimated in the first act.

Also worth noting is Peter Aguero's fine and humorous performance as Jake Latta, and the plethora of tropical sounds that are provided by Chris Rummel.

For fans of Williams work, this lovingly presented version of The Night Of The Iguana is a must see.

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