Iguanas generally live 15-20 years in the wild, but the scratching reptile in the Tennessee Williams classic “Night of the Iguana” is frisky and relevant as ever at 50.
Director Ruff Yeager and a talented team of theatre artists created a transcendent production of the morality play set in tropical Mexico with universal themes of guilt, expectations and redemption. Williams’ iguana escaped the barbeque at the 11th hour and so did Yeager’s, in one of SWC’s finest theatrical productions in years.
“Night of the Iguana” follows the story of Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Nick Steklov), an irreverent reverend locked out of his church and institutionalized for calling God a “senile delinquent” and for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a teacher. After his release, Shannon takes up employment as a tour guide in Mexico. During a trip through Acapulco, Shannon finds himself accused of statutory rape when 17-year-old Charlotte Goddall (Lauren Yowell) seduces him.
In an attempt to escape, Shannon forces his group off the tour path and into the arms of the Costa Verde Hotel, run by his “experienced” friend Maxine Faulk (Jill Drexler). Soon after his arrival, Shannon meets the struggling spinster Hannah Jelkes (Robin Christ) and her feeble grandfather Nonno (George Weingberg-Harter). He quickly and easily creates a bond with Hannah but has little time to enjoy her company as he ends up juggling the restless tour group, Maxine’s sexual advances, two German tourists singing Nazi marching songs, and the possibility of losing his job. It is the relationships between these characters that move the play along and perpetuate the chaos.
Willams’ beautiful script received an equally-beautiful set by assistant professor Michael Buckley and his students. Buckley, a San Diego County design wizard, created an atmosphere that let Williams’ words and Yeager’s actors cast their spell.
Williams explores the vulnerable world of human interaction and maintains an alluring darkness in his comedy. He crafted very flawed but very human characters that could be us.
SWC’s stage and lighting crew must be commended for both the creation of the gorgeous set and the great use of lighting throughout the play. Set builders perfected the look of an open air tropical hotel. From the cabana-like hotel rooms straight out of Mexico to the hammock hanging in the middle of the stage, the set was Dos Equis commercial meets Margueritaville.
Interesting effects embellished the atmosphere, such as water in a scene where a storm was passing through. Lighting was brilliant, with hues of blue and orange augmenting the mood. Buckley’s less-is-more artistry highlighted moments and guided the story through its emotional revelations.
Williams’ wisdom was unlocked by a talented cast led by Nick Steklov as Shannon. Steklov channeled an actor plucked straight out of the golden age of movies with his booming voice and pinpoint diction. He made Shannon feel human.
Jill Drexler portrayed a woman of “experience” perfectly with her sly movements and laid-back attitude. In direct contrast, Robin Christ played her calm opposite in Hannah Jelkes and her performance really shone in the second act due to her great chemistry with Steklov.
Wily old pro George Weinberg-Harter was amazing as the senile grandfather Nonno, mumbling and bumbling his way across the stage. Andrew Woodend and Michell Horne provided some great humor with slightly broad performances as Nazi German tourists Wolfgang and Fahrenkopf. Lauren Yowell had a great moment in a standout scene with Steklov which showcased the naiveté of Charlotte Goddall. Even the auxiliary acting of the cabana boys, John Lopez, Diego Arias, Jonathan Ortiz-Garcia and Roman Rodriguez rollicked as they joked off stage.
Problems were minimal. There were a few moments where the actors stepped over each other’s lines and stumbled through a line, but they made that feel even natural and conversational.
“Iguana” has shed its skin in countless productions and SWC’s staging had the edginess of a lizard on a window pane.