Thursday, March 09, 2017

A.R.T. Presents A Flawless "The Night of the Iguana" by Tennessee Williams - Through March 18th

Amanda Plummer as Hannah
James Earl Jones as Nonno
"The Night of the Iguana" by Tennessee Williams
American Repertory Theater
Through March 18th
Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography
If you hope to see the stunning and memorable production of "The Night of the Iguana" at the A.R.T., you may have to get on a waiting list or buy a standing room ticket the day of the performance, for many of the remaining dates are SOLD OUT. And this is for good reason. It is a fabulous and praiseworthy production.

Tennessee Williams was fighting demons - physical and psychological - when he betook himself to Mexico for a rest cure. In the summer of 1940, the Third Reich was beginning to cast a lengthening shadow, and German tourists at the squalid hotel where Williams was holed up proved to be a troubling distraction with their boisterous chauvinism and hedonism. Williams observed and ruminated, and years later took the seeds that had been sown during that Acapulco summer to craft this play. He populated the drama with fictional characters inspired by the denizens of that hotel.

There is the recently widowed Maxine Faulk (Dana Delany), whose older husband has died and left her with the crumbling hotel. She enjoys a flirtatious relationship with her young muscular Mexican staff (Kiko Macan and Mike Turner), as well as with the defrocked Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Bill Heck), who is recovering from a nervous breakdown after being booted from his church for being a little too pastoral with one of the young women in his flock. He pays the bills by serving as a tour guide for a flea-bitten tour company. He is currently escorting a group of young ladies from a Baptist seminary in Texas, chaperoned by the decidedly butch Judith Fellowes (Elizabeth Ashley), whose randy niece, Charlotte (Susannah Perkins) has a crush on the good reverend. Along comes Hannah Jelkes (Amanda Plummer), an impecunious sketch artist who has in tow her wheelchair-bound grandfather (James Earl Jones), a minor poet who is "97 years young." The cast is fleshed out with Richard Hoxie, Stacia Fernandez, Hannah Sharafian and Ben Winter as the Germans, Remo Airaldi as Jake Latta, and Matt Morrison as Hank.

If you are noticing some very familiar names among the incredible cast that Director Michael Wilson has assembled, then you are paying attention. How blest we are in Cambridge/Boston to have regular access to some of the best talent on the planet. The creative team behind this production are also World Class. The Scenic Design by Derek McLane evokes the sleepy Acapulco of the 1940s. Costume Design by Catherine Zuber enhances the sense of character and of time. David Lander's Lighting Design allows us to watch the shifting moods of the day and of the characters in the play, Sound Design by John Gromada amplifies the sense of place.

Remo Airaldo as Jake Latta
Bill Heck as Rev. Shannon
Dana Delany as Maxine
Elizabeth Ashley as Judith Fellowes
"The Night of the Iguana" by Tennessee Williams
American Repertory Theater
Through March 18th
Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography
The most memorable action in this tragicomic play occurs at the very end of Act 1 and carries into Act 2. A climactic thunderstorm punctuates the end of the initial act, and a riveting scene between Hannah and Rev. Shannon raises the stakes. He is at his lowest point, and the once mousy spinster sketch artist from Nantucket roars at him in a scene that is a tour de force for the formidable Ms. Plummer. Mr. Heck also rises to the occasion in this scene of pathos and passion. Mr. Jones role is little more than a cameo, involving only a handful of scenes. But this great lion of the stage sucks every drop of nectar from those scenes. Nonno is struggling to finish one final poem before he succumbs, and we quickly surmise that Tennessee Williams is doing two things here. The poem that is almost finished is in fact Nonno's life. But the poem that he wrote will live on, emblematic of the undying nature of art amidst our human mortality. Elizabeth Ashley is memorable in her scenes when she is in high dudgeon trying to protect the modesty and virtue of her wandering niece.

I will long remember Ms. Plummer in this role for her combination of strength and vulnerability. And I will remember Mr. Jones stentorian tones bouncing off of the walls of the theater and straight into our souls. This is not the first pairing of Mr. Jones with a member of the Plummer family on a Boston area stage. In the summer of 1981, I was in attendance at the Wang when Mr. Jones played Othello opposite Christopher Plummer's Iago prior to that production moving to Broadway. How gratifying it is that Mr. Plummer has passed the torch to a very worthy member of the next generation to team with a still vibrant James Earl Jones. We are all richer for the continuing collaboration.

Enjoy!

Al

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