It is no surprise that Tennessee Williams could people his plays with tough and gritty characters. That is certainly true of his “Night of the Iguana,” currently in production at Conroe’s crown jewel, the Crighton Theatre. The Crighton Players are not new to the works of Mr. Williams, as witnessed by their wonderful “Glass Menagerie” just a few years ago. Now, this “Iguana”, with a talented cast of actors under the able direction of Don Hampton, finds me admiring a carefully crafted production of a play I really do not care for.
It is the summer of 1940 on the West Coast of Mexico. The scene is the run down Costa Verde Hotel, which is so imaginatively conceived (in the scenic design of Mike Mullins and Mr. Hampton), that this beautiful set became the star of the show. Tucked into a lush coastal rain forest, the shabby hotel has a charming and realistic design. It is not only visually appealing, but also accented by exotic plants and wildlife sounds, while at the same time being enhanced with the thunder, lightning, full moon, misty rain, and shadowy lighting of skilled designer, Robert Eubanks. With the stage ramped down into the audience (much of the action plays right through the theater), the overall look of this first class staging would have worked well on any Broadway stage.
Having said all that, let’s consider the somewhat sad cast of characters in this drama. Generally, they are not a group designed to lift your spirits. There is the defrocked minister, Rev. Shannon (Allen Dorris), who seems to have had some issues with underage girls. The hotel’s slinking manager, Maxine (Jamie Higgs) comes on to him at every opportunity with an air of seduction. Shannon staggers a lot, perhaps from needing a drink, or perhaps from having had too many. He spends his time grumbling and lumbering about when he is not wiping perspiration from his agitated brow, or managing bus tours for groups like the Texas Baptist Female College ladies who cause him further agitation during their visit. Leading those touring ladies is the never-satisfied Miss Judith Fellows, who is clearly unhappy with both the reverend’s hotel choice for her group, and his attentions to one of her young ladies, Miss Charlotte Goodall, (Jessica Harlan). As humorously played by Carolyn Wong, Miss Fellows is a feisty, angry, demanding cross between the acting styles of Agnes Moorehead and Margaret Hamilton. For added comic relief, there are a few amusing moments from the German tourists, Herr and Frau Farhenkoph (Dan Jackson and Sue Hayes).
For really compelling performances, I recommend Cindy Siple in the role of the struggling artist, Hannah Jelkes, and Charlie Trotter skillfully portraying her senile grandfather, Jonathan, a poet who is trying desperately to complete his last poem. Hannah has devoted herself to her ailing grandfather, and Siple delivers a wrenching description of Hannah’s loveless love life, highlighted by an encounter with an Australian salesman who uses an article of her clothing to satisfy his fetish. To Hannah’s everlasting credit, she refuses to accept his return of the then soiled garment! Need I say more? Perhaps I lack sophistication and am a bit of a prude for wishing that writers like Williams would lighten up on the seamy side of life.
Rounding out the cast was nice work from Wesley G. Bush Jr., Dale Trimble and Steven Reza; but perhaps the most effective performance of the evening was that of Mr. Trotter in the role of grandpa. His frail body language, physical and mental desperation, and his powerful delivery of the poetic verses, all had the atmosphere of classic drama. While this was a small part in terms of dialogue, his memorable performance was truly theatre on a very high plane, and helped to make a sometimes-tedious play worth the trip to Conroe.
“Iguana” continues at Conroe’s beautiful Crighton Theatre with 8 p.m. performances on July 14th & 15th and July 21st & 22nd, with a Sunday matinee July 16th at 2 p.m. For tickets and information call 936-441-SHOW.
(The Courier 7.10.06)