I'm all for firsts. And Artistic Home's very solid production of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana presented a whole world of them. It was my first time seeing any iteration of this classic Williams play, my first time seeing this well-established, small-yet-mighty ensemble, and it was the ensemble's first production in their impressive new storefront space.
Overall, I'd say the combination proved a triumph of firsts.
Ok, so Williams' play is is more than a bit heavy handed, and going into the show cold, there's a boat-load of exposition that took me about half the first act to piece together. Essentially, Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (the ideally cast John Mossman) has recently been shunned by the church, and has started a new career as a tour guide. Unlucky for his tour party, somewhere deep in the coast of Mexico he engages in one of his many "nervous breakdowns." He escapes the mess by visiting his friend Maxine who runs a cheap motel near the coast. The recently windowed Maxine (the fiery Miranda Zola) is hot on the trail for the ex-Reverend, but another motel guest, a mysterious spinster (Kelly Owens) and her eccentric father (the adorable Walter Brody) may foil Maxine's plans, while also shaking Shannon from his mid-life crisis.
Since the action takes place in the steaming summer of 1940, Williams does subtle things like have vacationing Nazis march through the scenes while singing German bar songs. At one point, he has Shannon tied to a hammock and then has Hannah, the spinster, explain to Shannon (and thereby, us) how Shannon's situation is reminiscent of the crucifixion of Christ. Oh, and let's not forget when Maxine has an iguana tied up under the porch, and we are told, no less than three times, how the captured iguana represents Shannon's struggle to escape from his past, but how he and Hannah are both at the end of their proverbial ropes, etc. etc.
I felt compelled to shake the ghost of la Williams by the shoulders and say "WE GET IT! STOP WITH THE AGGRESSIVE METAPHORING!"
All that aside, Williams' play is filled with passion and heat, and Artistic Home's production works so well because of two simple things: casting and directing. Kathy Scambiatterra has assembled an incredibly diverse and interesting ensemble who each bring something unique to the table. Even the two motel workers, Pancho and Pedro (Michael Leon and Mark ViaFranco, respectively), bring color and atmosphere to the play, with ViaFranco strumming interludes on his cavaquinho between scene changes. And Scambiatterra artfully guides this stellar cast through Williams' dense script, keeping the passion front and center.
"The Night of the Iguana" plays through May 5 at Artistic Home's new space, located at 1376 W. Grand Ave. More information here >