The Night of the Iguana

By - Sep 7th, 2007 02:52 pm
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American Players Theatre

night-of-the-iguanaThe American Players Theatre delves into a mid-twentieth century script with its production of Tennessee Williams’ Night Of The Iguana. It’s an interesting choice in material for one of the APT’s few dips into the recent past. While it is true that Williams is widely recognized as one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century, The Night Of The Iguana is scarcely as acclaimed as other Williams classics like The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. (When the play debuted on Broadway in 1961, it received mixed reviews.) That said, The Night of The Iguana is far more entertaining than Williams’ more turgidly acclaimed works. It mixes particularly effective humor with a sense of drama that manages an abstract allegorical nature while still feeling quite natural.

The APT production stars the multi-talented Jim DeVita as Reverend Shannon—a defrocked minister who, in his new occupation as tour guide, is leading a church group on a vacation tour through Mexico during World War II. DeVita does an excellent job here, but the character is nowhere near as interesting as the plot he’s a part of. Shannon guides his group to a hotel run by an old friend of his by the name of Maxine. Maxine (Tracy Michelle Arnold) takes the tour group in, certain that Shannon is still the wild party animal he always was—even as he claims to have reformed, cleaned up, and curbed the alcohol consumption. Arnold is very seductive here, possessing a smart, tough kind of allure that serves the character well. The rapport between DeVita and Arnold makes for some of the best moments in the play. The seduction of Shannon is complicated when a virginal young artist named Hannah (Colleen Madden) arrives at the hotel with her aging father (Robert Spencer.) It quickly becomes apparent that father and daughter have no money to pay for their accommodations and must attempt to sell his poetry and her paintings to keep their rooms. Madden is interesting here, but the character doesn’t provide her the kind of challenge she would need to turn out a really great performance. And it’s always great to see Spencer playing the lovable older guy (like he did most recently in the Rep’s production of Tuesdays With Morrie last year). It’s still a bit difficult to see him play such a simple character after his much more recent turn as a sophisticated Russian politico in Milwaukee Chamber’s production of A Walk In The Woods.

In absence of any really amazing individual performances, the play comes across as a solid, entertaining ensemble piece. Talented actors squeeze themselves into roles that aren’t quite as good as they are, making for a stage dynamic that never quite manages to get boring. The script is bizarrely uneven in places, making for fascinating friction that seems to have no direct link to the central theme of temptation in a paradise that may be imprisonment. (Showing inexplicable storytelling instincts, Williams throws in a group of vacationing Nazis at the hotel for comic effect.) The story drags in places, but the APT production of The Night of the Iguana is a refreshingly skewed play from a playwright so well-known for much stuffier twentieth century drama. VS

The American Players Theatre’s Production of The Night Of The Iguana runs now through October 6th in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Tickets can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 608-588-2361 or online at www.playinthewoods.org

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