Directed by Kathy Scambiatterra
Starring John Mossman, Miranda Zola and Kelly Owens
Presented by The Artistic Home, Chicago
This is a well-paced and beautifully observed production of an under-performed masterwork.
The Night of the Iguana, which had a successful 1961 Broadway premier,would be Tennessee Williams’s last commercial success. His protracted twenty-year artistic decline, lasting until his death in 1983, was little more than a self-parodying epilogue to an otherwise promising early career. Critics were skeptical of his attempts to move beyond the “poetic naturalism” he had pioneered in Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, and he bore the failure to revive his artistic gifts especially hard, succumbing to long bouts of depression and alcoholism.
Audiences of The Artistic Home’s recent staging of Iguana may keep this in mind, if only because the struggle of its central character, Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon, so closely intimates the one Williams himself would be forced to undergo in the years following. Shannon (played here by the incomparable John Mossman), is a man on the edge. He is “cracked up” and “at the end of [his] rope,” yet “still has to try to go on, to continue.” Endurance beyond all hope—“something that spooks and blue devils respect”—is Iguana’s principal theme, and one which has characteristically deep reverberations in the playwright’s own autobiography.
Rev. Shannon, shut out of his well-to-do Episcopalian congregation in Virginia for lambasting God as a “senile delinquent” (as well as for sleeping with a teenage parishioner), has for the past decade been leading tour groups along the Mexican coastline for a second-rate travel agency. When he shows up at his friend Maxine’s hotel, a busload of female schoolteachers in tote, he has already started his prolonged mental collapse. Shannon, it would appear, has been recently accused of the statutory rape of a sixteen-year-old girl accompanying his tour group, and the girl’s guardian (Jane Delaubenfels) has set out to personally persecute Shannon for all his sins.
Thus Shannon turns to Maxine’s hotel as Christ turned to Gethsemane, intending to sweat out the dark hour of his indignity. But the recently widowed Maxine (Miranda Zola) has other plans, and with all the ravenous sexual appetite of an Earth Mother goddess, she hopes to seduce Shannon into her empty bed. But when the spinster Hannah Jelkes (Kelly Owens) shows up with her grandfather Nonno (Walter Brody), Shannon finds in her an ethereally pure counterpart to Maxine’s carnal desires. For it is Hannah—neither neurotic nor depraved—who can open Shannon up to the “broken gates between people”—broken “so they can reach each other, even if it’s just for one night only.”
Without a doubt, The Artist Homes’s production of Iguana—in its new space on W. Grand Avenue—never shies away from the deeply layered nuances of Williams’s play. Kathy Scambiatterra’s exceptionally patient direction manages to be both textured and well-observed without sacrificing any of the play’s broader mythical undertones. Exerting a soft and subtle touch only, Scambiatterra’s intimate production resonates for hours after you’ve left the theater, it’s dense lyricism continuing to haunt long after the curtain falls.
Equipped with unsurpassable instincts, John Mossman’s performance as Rev. Shannon is nothing short of electric. From the moment he comes on stage, doused in sweat and almost tripping over his excitable energies, Mossman manages to imbue in every moment a charged spontaneity, and in his capable hands, Williams’s “dramatic poem” has never seemed so fiercely alive. As the hotel proprietor Maxine, Miranda Zola’s uninhibited sensuality is enough to pin even Mossman’s imposing physique to the mat. Yet for all her imposing presence, she never manages to lose Maxine’s lonesome vulnerability. And Kelly Owens effectively captures Hannah’s controlled Buddah-esque stillness and her softly delicate graces, even if she occasionally appears too serenely aloof.
Still, chock full of lyrical heart, well-observed moments of beauty and some of the best performances Chicago storefront has to offer, The Artistic Home’s production of this under-appreciated masterwork should not be missed.
Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Thursday, March 28th, 2013.
The Night of the Iguana runs until May 5th, 2013. The Artistic Home is located at 1376 W. Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60642. Tickets can be obtained online at www.theartistichome.org or by calling (866) 811-4111. You can also call the The Artistic Home at (312) 243-3963. Check out their Theater in Chicago http://www.theatreinchicago.com/the-night-of-the-iguana/6202/.