by Tennessee Williams
In the Company Of Productions
Playwrights Theatre Centre, Granville Island
December 2-11

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 wonky accents.

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.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:18 PM
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