Performances highlight ‘The Night of the Iguana’
The Sheridan Bigler Theater has transformed into a scenic hotel in 1940’s Mexico with the production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Night of the Iguana.”
Opening night brought a sizable audience last Thursday to see a quintessential play from one of America’s greatest playwrights.
I was immediately transported to the scene of a resort hotel — of which, it is hinted, is less resort and more cheap hotel — complete with thatched roof, hammock, and cocktail cart. I especially applaud the use of subtle smoke to create the heavy air of a tropical destination. It is here, in this courtyard with a view of the ocean, most of the action in “The Night of the Iguana” takes place. Enter T. Lawrence Shannon, a former reverend who has now taken a job as a tour guide and is handling himself miserably. Shouting, he comes on stage.
Shannon is played by Tim Riggs, the former face behind the theater’s summer camp program. Riggs’ performance is bigger than his stature, as his sweaty and magnanimous Shannon opens up before the viewer — first as a complaint-filled blowhard edging on womanizer and later as a man in deep moral despair. Shannon arrives at the hotel to find his friend Maxine Faulk (played by Tricia Corcoran) running the inn as a new widow. At first, I suspected Corcoran was incorrectly cast for the role of the sultry and carnal Faulk, but getting beyond the characters brash and loud behavior, reveals a sexy woman willing to unleash her feminine allure at any turn. Although widowed, she is not alone at the hotel as the walking punchlines of Pedro (Austin Trynosky) and Pancho (Jose Mangual) serve as both young lover and less than helpful hotel attendant. The ultimate comedic relief comes from the visiting Fahrenkopf family, who interject absurdity with their Nazi sympathy, overbearing stature, and less than stylish dress.
Even with its bits of quick wit, “The Night of the Iguana” should not be confused with a comedy. Chock full of word play, the performance is both merry and deep. Shannon’s soul is near peril and the one to march him back from the edge of collapse is Hannah Jelkes. Jelkes, a spinster artist from New England, is traveling the world with her grandfather, Nonno, a poet of some renowned. Jelkes is beautifully portrayed by Kristie Ohlinger, who delivers a subtle and sublime rendition of a woman who knows more than her years and feels deeper than the ocean she overlooks from this hotel in Mexico. She is stranded, but not without pride. Nonno (John Kleimo), as a side character, adds a bit of humor and a depth of understanding to the entire story as it unravels; Kleimo has the commanding voice of a seasoned poet.
Also caught in this mess of humanity is Miss Judith Fellowes, the head of the entourage from a Christian college who is currently —and now reluctantly — being shown the sights of Mexico by Shannon. Fellowes is played by Elizabeth Pattey, who was last seen on the Ephrata stage in June with Ohlinger and Corcoran in “Blithe Spirit.” Rounding out the cast is Hannah Smith as Charlotte Goodall, the head-over-heels minor previously involved with Shannon; Brian Viera as Hank the bus driver; and Rob Adams as Jake Latta, Shannon’s replacement tour guide.
The speed of the delivery from Riggs as the main character is utterly captivating and creates a chaos between hilarity and humility as he works through his inner and outer demons. Early on in the play, he begs of Faulk, “Don’t complicate my fever!” It’s already complicated, my friend. Writer Williams’ ability to reach into the depth of the human soul and wrangle feelings not often aired, is paramount to “The Night of the Iguana.” Like most of his plays, “Iguana” follows a twisted path into the depths of humanity, touching on our errors, focusing on faults, and allowing for self-solution. Such as life, there are a few great laughs along the way.
I have to admit I feel the performance missed the dynamic and the over-exaggerated contradiction between the three women and the one man. Although the characters were extremely strong individually, the only great connection came between Shannon and Jelkes. Faulk and Fellowes were portrayed well, but became lost in the dynamic between actors Riggs and Ohlinger.
I also thought I found an error in this production of “The Night of the Iguana” when I noticed the use of matches from a matchbook to start a tea kettle. Upon further review, my youth misled me. It turns out matchbooks may have been in wide use in1940’s Mexico. (The first matchbook was produced in 1889.)
“The Night of the Iguana” is a tale of woe and wonderment beautifully captured by the cast of actors on the Sheridan Bigler Theater stage.
“Nothing human disgusts me unless it’s unkind,” wrote Tennessee Williams. That is the sum of “The Night of the Iguana.