A Taut Performance of THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at RVP

Eric Burke as Shannon and Kristine Ann Lowry as Hannah relax on the exotic set of Ross Valley Players presentation of The Night of the Iguana. Photo by Robin Jackson

THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA by Tennessee Williams directed by Cris Cassell. Ross Valley Players’ Barn Theatre (RVP), 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA, 94957. (415) 456-9555 or www.rossvalleyplayers.com. May 17 to June 17, 2012

A Taut Performance of THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at RVP

The Ross Valley Players continues to bill themselves as the “oldest continually operating community theater on the West Coast.” They may have begun as a “community theatre” in 1930, but their deservedly great reputation has expanded beyond the community of Ross since they attract actors from the entire Bay Area. For their top-notch production of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana they have “imported” three great actors from Santa Rosa (Eric Burke to play Shannon), Rohnert Park (Cat Bish as Maxine) and Sausalito (Wood Lockhart as Nonno) to join San Rafael local Ann Lowery (Hannah) creating a taut evening honoring Tennessee Williams on what would have been 100th birth year.

The stage play began as a 1948 short story and premiered on Broadway in 1961 starring Patrick O'Neal as Rev. Shannon, Bette Davis as Maxine and Margaret Leighton as Hannah. The 1964 film version that has become a cult classic starred Richard Burton as Rev. Shannon, Ava Gardner as Maxine and Deborah Kerr as Hannah Davis. If you have seen the film, do not bring preconceived thoughts of how the roles should be played and just be fascinated as was a seatmate who was seeing the play for the first time.

The time and place are 1940s in a cheap hotel on the Mexican coast run by the concupiscent widow Maxine. Defrocked Episcopal minister Shannon who has been locked out of his church has become a tour guide for a second-rate agency and is leading a tour group of Baptist women. Shannon insists he has not been de-frocked but has been locked up in an institution when he becomes “spooked”, usually during drinking episodes. He has committed statutory rape with a 16 year old girl in the tour group and will suffer the consequences when they return to Texas.

Shannon is intimately connected with Maxine who has looked after him previously when he was spooked. Into this smarmy atmosphere arrives spinster, traveling painter and sketch artist Hannah Jelkes with her aged poet grandfather Nanno composing in his mind his last poem. Hannah and Nonno have traveled the world scraping by selling her sketches to travelers and he relying on offerings for his recitations. The bond between Shannon and Hannah quickly nurtures, each recognizing the weakness of the other. Maxine does not take too kindly to “her Shannon” getting overly friendly with Hannah but he is able to arrange lodging and food for the travelers.

The play’s main theme revolves around the deep human bond between Shannon and Hannah. Like the iguana, captured and tied to a pole by the Mexicans they have come to the end of their rope. Whereas he eventually cuts the iguana free, he too throws off his constraints by violently tearing the golden cross from his neck symbolically freeing him from his demons

Director Cris Cassell is very, very fortunate to have Eric Burke and Ann Lowery as the protagonists. They capture the gist of Williams’ words and play off each other with synchronicity during their verbal and physical interchanges as well as delivering those poetic lines that are trademarks of Williams’ writing. Casting Cat Bish as the lusty Maxine was a perfect choice and one would wish that Williams had given her more time on stage. Wood Lockhart as the nonagenarian poet adds the proper pathos to the role and it is appropriate that Nanno’s final poem partially sums up the intricate inner psychological turmoil and hope of the characters.

All this plays out in 2 hours and 30 minutes (The RVP production has deleted the German Nazi characters from the script.) on Malcolm Rodgers’ fantastic set complete with ramshackle buildings, palm trees, tropical foliage and the necessary hammock that is integral to the play.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com