NIGHT OF THE IGUANA
by Tennessee Williams
In the Company Of Productions
Playwrights Theatre Centre, Granville Island
Let's get a couple of things straight about this production.
1) It doesn't invent, re-invent, revive or set new standards
for theatre in Vancouver. 2) It's absolutely terrific. Though
doing a lot of things wrong in their pre-show promotion, this
new company has done just about everything right in staging this
lesser known but fascinating Tennessee Williams play.
In typical Williams fashion we're introduced to desperate characters
at the end of their tethers, a metaphor made literal by the trapped
iguana of the title, tied by the neck and waiting to be slaughtered.
To blowsy Maxine's dead-end hotel in sweltering rural Mexico
comes Larry Shannon, a southern reverend defrocked for committing "fornication
and heresy in the same week." He has been reduced to driving
a tour bus for Baptist women from a Dallas college, who are threatening
to charge him with statutory rape ("that's when you're seduced
by a girl under 20," he explains) for bedding their youngest
member. Larry has been here before, had breakdowns here before,
and spent time in the local nuthouse. Maxine, recently widowed,
wants to trade in her young Mexican boys for Larry. But he's
attracted to the prim spinster Hannah, who travels the world
with her 97 year old grandfather, "the oldest living practicing
poet," the two scratching out a living reciting his poems
and selling her sketches. A group of obnoxious German tourists
acts as a kind of absurd chorus to the quartet of misfits.
The challenge in playing this kind of material is to give these
characters their full value without slipping over the edge into
soap opera, melodrama or camp. Christopher Shyer as Larry, pumped
up with a high fever, has to play both a womanizer and metaphysician,
screaming Lear-like imprecations at heaven in a fierce thunderstorm,
seducing a middle-aged virgin over a cup of tea. Shyer is a little
too loud and broad in the early going but he settles down to
deliver a very strong performance as a complex character who
has run out of places to hide from himself. Larry describes Maxine
as "bigger than life and twice as unnatural," and Lynda
Boyd does a nice job capturing the lusty widow's cynical worldliness
while keeping her real. He calls Hannah "absolutely fantastic," and
that's exactly how I'd describe Sarah-Jane Redmond's work here.
Her Hannah is magnetic, maintaining a spine of steel and a dignified
desperation that shows through only in the slightest twitches,
the subtlest details. Fine support from Chris Davis as the ancient
poet and Stellina Rusich as one of the Baptist ladies out to
get Larry. There's not a weak link in the large cast, only some
Director Michèle Lonsdale Smith deserves huge credit
for keeping this big show with its not always subtle material
on a steady track. She makes full use of the small Playwrights
Theatre Centre space, steering the action around the audience
and even offstage into the foyer. And she gets excellent production
values from a strong design team notable especially for Itai
Erdal's lovely lighting and Jim Guttridge's lively soundscape.
Blake Drezet's tropical veranda set is so realistic that when
a storm comes up, the fronds of the palm trees actually rustle
in the wind. That kind of detail plus first-class performances
and interesting, rarely seen material make this a show I('m)guana
remember for a long time.