by Margret Echeverria

In “Night of the Iguana” at Pershing Square presented by La Femme Theatre Productions and directed by Emily Mann, the only creatures with a high stakes awareness of a trapped existence are the people in the audience and the iguana (puppet) tethered under the verandah of the hotel just outside Acapulco, Mexico in the early 40’s.

Getting free of a trap requires some connection to the world outside yourself.  Unfortunately, the circuits in this play are as dead as Fred, spoken of by his widow Maxine Faulk (Daphne Ruben-Vega), in the first scene to Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Tim Daly) who has arrived, seeking refuge from a bus load of Baptist school teachers from Texas.  These ladies who were promised a lovely tour of Mexico in the company of a priest expert in the beauty of God’s world and God’s creatures.  Shannon, de-frocked for habitual inappropriate behavior with young female Episcopal parishners, is sweating bullets in his white linen suit and confesses he just did it again – this time with a Baptist seventeen year old currently on the bus and decidedly in love with him.  The writing directs Shannon to seek refuge by resting in a hammock from which location he had hoped to speak to Fred of his burdens.  In one of many awkward moments, the hammock is placed in a hot spotlight, making it nearly impossible that Shannon would seek refuge there as it is over 100 degrees in the shade, yet Daly folds himself into it.  Maxine enters, straddles Shannon in the hammock and tries to seduce him to be her partner in the running of this shabby hotel, but the effort, repeated throughout the play, is so presentational that it produces no sensuality at all.

As the gaggle of ladies sends advocates to convince Shannon to hand over the bus ignition key so they can go to a nicer hotel in Acapulco, Hanna Jelkes (Jean Lichty), arrives seeking accomodations for herself and her grandfather, Jonathan Coffin – Nonno (Austin Pendleton), a sweet old poet in his nineties.  Lichty’s speaking is soft, slow and almost inaudible which is unfortunate as her character is attached to the center of the story (the center being Shannon).  Pendleton acts from where he is in the moment, making Meisner proud, hitting several targets with oxygen that was never inhaled by his scene partners.  As he asks Hannah loudly for details of today’s haul from her marks, he is in another world perfectly delivering dementia.

Tim Daly and Lea DeLaria in Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams directed by Emily Mann. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tim Daly and Lea DeLaria in Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams directed by Emily Mann. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Enter Miss Judith Fellowes (Lea Delaria), the feisty Baptist music director. Delaria was on point, but her expertly executed cues, were rarely picked up by the other actors.

Two pairs of characters are meant to provide comic relief.  Pedro and Pancho (Bradley James Tejeda and Dan Teixeira) are Maxine’s hotel staff members.  Their physicality was chameleon-like and changed from moment to moment while they listened and side-eyed each other as they  accomodated the guests.   Herr and Frau Fahrenkopf (Michael Leigh Cook and Alena Acker), two German guests, are cartoon cut-outs against the live action as they sing German anthems and rejoice in Hitler’s successes thousands of miles away.

The majority of the second act is filled with a conversation between Shannon and Hannah – this is supposed to be a seduction because there is much in the balance.  Both characters are walking a tighrope.  But little was offered up as proof of the budding intimacy.  Why these two people were speaking to one another remained a mystery throughout.  The dialogue was choppy, the action awkward and at times inexplicable. For instance, when Hannah goes to see the prisoner iguana under the verandah, she neglects to jump off the ramp and go below the veranda – instead she continues down the ramp to off stage. To where?  When the captured iguana was finally set free, we all wanted to be cut loose as well.  But it took a lot more time for that to happen.

All in all “Night of the Iguana” is filled with good intentions, but it is a poorly directed production filled with missed connections and overlooked opportunities.  This is supposed to be the story of a man tormented by life and its vagaries, a man wanting love, but blinded by fear.  Everyone surrounding Shannon reflects him until he is boxed in and surrenders to Maxine’s will.  Tennessee Williams said “This is a play about love in its purest terms.”  Well, the play may be, but this production did not achieve that lofty goal.

NIGHT OF THE IGUANA by Tennessee Williams, directed by Emily Mann

WITH Daphne Ruben-Vega (Maxine Faulk), Bradley James Tejeda (Pedro), Tim Daly (Reverand T. Lawrence Shannon), Dan Teixeira (Pancho), Eliud Garcia Kauffman (Hank), Alena Acker (Frau Fahrenkopf), Michael Leigh Cook (Herr Fahrenkopf), Lea Delaria (Miss Judith Fellowes), Jean Lichty (Hannah Jelkes), Carmen Berkeley (Charlotte Goodall), Austin Pendleton (Jonathan Coffin – Nonno), Keith Randolph Smith (Jake Latta).

Sets by Beowulf Boritt, Costumes by Jennifer Von Matrhauser, Lighting by Jeff Croiter, Sound by Darron I.

At Signature Theater’s Pershing Square, 480 W. 42 Street yhtough February 25.  TICKETS HERE