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Night of the Iguana: Slithering Sin in Old Mexico
Katie Cunningham and Tim Altmeyer star in “The Night of the Iguana,” at Palm Beach Dramaworks in
West Palm Beach. - Photo by Samantha Mighdoll

This story is about a past production at Palm Beach Dramaworks.

Sin. Repent. Repeat. The soul-searching, desperate characters of The Night of the Iguana, Tennessee Williams’ aching, sweaty, 1961 play about a defrocked minister and his one chance for salvation, opened Palm Beach Dramaworks’ 2016-2017 season on Friday, October 14 (8pm) at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre. Performances continue through November 13.

Regarded as Williams’ last major work – like the poem completed moments before one of the character’s death in the show – this wild and sensual show about sin and redemption and skewed second chances is set in the summer of 1940 and takes place at the Costa Verde Hotel in Puerto Barrio, on the west coast of Mexico.

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The impressive set of a Mexican Hotel surrounded by lush vegetation sets the stage for the cast of characters ready to check in. The opening scene of a naked strapping Mexican man stumbling out of one of the rooms had the immediate attention of women in the audience. When it’s further revealed he has been romping with the Hotel’s owner, the lusty recently-widowed Maxine Faulk played by the commanding Kim Cozort Kay, as well as another Mexican man later seen leaving the room, there is already some repeated sin going on. Hola!

Soon arriving in a sweaty, rumpled rush with a busload of very unhappy female American tourists is the frantic, self-destructive Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, played by Tim Altmeyer in a take no prisoners performance. It’s soon revealed he is running from his own sins, seeking respite and redemption in an old familiar haunt. He has been banished from the church for sleeping with minors and excessive drinking. Several nervous breakdowns later, he has become a wild-eyed tour guide detouring a bus load of hapless tourists to the hilltop resort so he can visit his old friend Fred. Unfortunately Fred is newly dead, so Shannon must contend with his amorous widow looking for an immediate replacement.

But Shannon makes a connection with another new arrival, Hannah Jelkes, played with a sensitive but steely resolve by Katie Cunningham, a kind, lonely, apparently broke artist, who is traveling with her grandfather, 97-year-old Nonno, a minor poet hoping to complete one more poem before he dies. She is soon outed as a stealth hustler by Maxine, who attempts to pierce the spinsters façade. A Greek chorus of sorts, played by a boorish German family parades through the stage frequently on their way to the beach, singing and throwing shade at the shenanigans Shannon causes.

There is also an underage conquest Lolita on board, Alexandra Grunberg as Charlotte Goodall, frantically trying to pin down the reluctant Shannon as her love interest.

It’s a wildly disparate cast of characters, all looking for their footing on a sloping mountaintop under changing skies. An incoming storm both energizes and terrifies the group. Shannon revels in the cleansing rain and flashes of lightning, while Maxine scrambles to protect her dinner tables and new burdens.

Williams show tends to be talky, but some action kicks in when Shannon makes a mad suicidal run to the sea and is dragged back kicking and screaming by men at the hotel. He is then tied up and trussed to a hammock to keep him from hurting himself and others. The Germans practically spit on him while Hannah makes him tea and tries to calm him down. She soon relates some ridiculously tepid stories of her two – count ‘em two – sexual brushes with the opposite sex. It’s almost laughable compared to Maxine’s orgy that opened the show and Shannon’s furious swan dives into sin.

But all is relative, as each player strives to connect in their own addled way. Poets want to recapture their literary glory, widows want a new mate, teens want to play grownups, spinsters want to break free, priests want redemption.

An actual iguana is never shown, though the hotel workers capture one in a bag and tether it to a stake offstage so it can be killed and eaten later. Shannon sets it free at Hannah’s disgusted urge, a symbol of her freeing herself and him from the shackles that bind them. While the ending is ambiguously hopeful, the future is never free from old demons rearing their scaly heads.

The Night of the Iguana is directed by William Hayes, PBD producing artistic director, with assistant direction by Paula D’Alessandris. Also featured are Irene Adjan as Miss Judith Fellowes, the belligerent leader of the women on tour; David Nail, Michael Collins, Brian Varela, Thomas Rivera, David Hyland, Becca McCoy, Rebecca Tucker, and Jordon Armstrong. Scenic design is by Michael Amico, appropriate period costume design is by Brian O’Keefe, crack lighting design that changes the time of day as well as weather is by Paul Black. Crisp sound design is by Matt Corey. The use of onstage mics helped enormously.

Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana opened on Broadway on December 28, 1961 and ran for 316 performances. The original cast featured Patrick O’Neal as Shannon, Margaret Leighton as Hannah, and Bette Davis as Maxine. The 1964 film starred Richard Burton as Shannon, Deborah Kerr as Hannah, and Ava Gardner as Maxine.

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi, was one of America’s greatest playwrights. Beginning with The Glass Menagerie (1945), he created a powerful body of work. His other best-known plays include A Streetcar Named Desire (Pulitzer Prize), Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo (Tony Award), Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Pulitzer Prize), Orpheus Descending, and Sweet Bird of Youth. Many of his plays were adapted for film, most memorably A Streetcar Named Desire (for which he wrote the screenplay), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rose Tattoo (for which he co-wrote the screenplay), Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Night of the Iguana.

A Review of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana, a Fascinating Production Now Playing at Palm Beach Dramaworks through November 13th, 2016.

Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at sandraslink@gmail.com.
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