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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Night of the Iguana
Palm Beach Dramaworks
Review by John Lariviere | Season Schedule

Also see John's recent reviews of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and They're Playing Our Song


Katie Cunningham, Dennis Creaghan and
Tim Altmeyer

Photo by Samantha Mighdoll
Palm Beach Dramaworks presents the play The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams. Based on Williams' own short story, The Night of the Iguana premiered on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on December 28, 1961, where it ran for 316 performances. It was adapted into an Academy Award winning film in 1964 starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr, and later revived on Broadway in 1976 at Circle in the Square Theatre.

The play is set in Puerto Barrio, Mexico, at the second-rate Costa Verde Hotel. It is the summer of 1940 and hotel owner Maxine Faulk (Kim Cozort Kay) has been left to manage the hotel on her own since the recent death of her much older husband Fred. A pragmatic, vital and earthy woman with a lust for life, Maxine has buried whatever melancholy she may have felt at the passing of her husband in the arms of two handsome cabana boys (played by Brian Varela and Thomas Rivera) she has hired from a neighboring resort where they had fallen into disfavor for paying intimate attention to the many female tourists. Kay captures the sensuality and fire of the role, stopping just short of making her bawdy. Quick to laugh and quick to feel jealousy, Maxine is a woman who lives in the moment, and enjoys what she can of the physical world around her. Just as she fears her sexual relationship with her employees may have compromised their respect for her as an employer, Maxine's attention is diverted by the arrival of an old friend, Lawrence Shannon (Tim Altmeyer).

Lawrence is an alcoholic ex-minister who has now found employment as a tour guide for a travel agency. Regrettably, his tour party, led by vocal teacher Miss Judith Fellowes (Irene Adjan), has turned against him for allegedly having sexual relations with a minor named Charlotte Goodall (Alexandra Grunberg). As an actor, Altmeyer has the unenviable task of being tied up, breaking down, and staying slightly drunk for much of the show. He is solid as Shannon, but is missing the inherently charismatic nature of this character whose fall from grace should be as compelling as is his charm. He never really breaks down the way that is intended, and we need that emotional fall to get the full effect of this roller coaster. After all, this is not Lawrence's first time, as he had a similar incident after being locked out of his church and institutionalized for a nervous breakdown.

Scenic design by Michael Amico places us in a slightly shabby motel on the coast of Mexico, where we can feel the heat and bugs. The wind moves palm fronds as a thunderstorm causes the cabana boys to hurriedly pull the dining tables in from the rain. There is also the faint sound of the struggling of the iguana that has been captured and tied up beneath the porch as he awaits his fate. The set and costumes are not glamorous but are evocative of the setting for the impending night of turmoil ahead.

The relationship between Maxine and Lawrence is changed by the arrival of a spinster named Hannah Jelkes (Katie Cunningham) and her elderly grandfather Nonno (Dennis Creaghan), who, despite his failing health, is composing his last poem. Though Nonno was once a poet of some note, Hannah now barely supports them both as a traveling painter and sketch artist, plying her trade at hotels, restaurants and town squares. She arrives at the hotel with no money, but manages to persuade Maxine to allow them to stay at least for one night with the promise of paying her back with the money she is bound to earn at her craft. Creaghan is a seasoned actor of considerable talent who deftly portrays the aging if senile Nonno during his brief stay at the hotel.

Miss Cunningham has a wonderful understanding of the time period, and a centered, calm elegance in her portrayal of Hannah. There is such beauty and poise in her acting that one begins watching every movement of hand and brow. She conveys every nuance of the character's subtext and conflict with admirable subtlety and exquisite timing. This Night of the Iguana belongs to her, and in her performance the words of Tennessee Williams come alive.

In addition to The Night of the Iguana, the plays of Tennessee Williams include The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending, Suddenly Last Summer, and Sweet Bird of Youth. He also wrote more than 70 one-act plays and 20 short stories as well as novels and poetry. Between 1948 and 1959 seven of his plays had been performed on Broadway, and counted two Pulitzer Prizes and one Tony Award among his many honors and recognitions. Several of his most acclaimed plays, including The Night of the Iguana, were adapted for cinema.

The Night of the Iguana will be appearing at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre through November 13, 2016. The theatre is located at 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. Palm Beach Dramaworks is a professional, not-for-profit theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors and actresses. For more information you can reach them by phone at 561-514-4042, 561-514-4042, or online at www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.

Cast:
Reverend Lawrence Shannon: Tim Altmeyer*
Hannah Jelkes: Katie Cunningham*
Maxine Faulk: Kim Cozart Kay*
Jonathan Coffin (Nonno): Dennis Creaghan*
Miss Judith Fellowes: Irene Adjan*
Charlotte Goodall: Alexandra Grunberg
Jake Latta: David Nail*
Hank: Michael Collins
Pedro: Brian Varela
Pancho: Thomas Rivera
Herr Fahrenkopf: David Hyland
Frau Fahrenkopf: Becca McCoy*
Hilda: Rebecca Tucker
Wolfgang: Jordan Armstrong

Crew:
Director: William Hayes
Scenic Design: Michael Amico
Lighting Design: Paul Black
Sound Design: Matt Corey
Costume Design: Brian O'Keefe
Stage Manager: James Danford*

*Indicates a member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States


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