Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana has attracted actors since its debut in 1961 when its cast included Bette Davis; a film version starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. New Edgecliff Theatre, which has done well in two previous seasons reviving classic works, has launched its 13th season with this play, sometimes called Williams’ “last great work,” with two local professionals in its leading female roles. NET has given it a strong visual production (designed by Melissa Bennett), set in a seedy Mexican hotel (it actually rains to end Act I).
Each central character in Williams’ “passion play” is at the end of his or her rope. The central character is Rev. Lawrence Shannon, an unstable, discredited minister (Nathan Neorr) now working as a bus tour guide.
Maxine (Kate Wilford), recently widowed, runs the hotel. Shannon talks her into giving a room to Hannah (Annie Fitzpatrick), a withdrawn but cultivated woman, and her 97-year-old grandfather (Robert Allen), a poet, as they try to cover their expenses by selling her sketches and paintings.
Neorr gets his character, but director Elizabeth Harris has allowed him to perform at full throttle too often, bug-eyed and raving in ways that make his eventual connection with the ethereal Hannah hard to accept, although we do see that they're kindred spirits after a fashion as they explore the space between fantasy and reality. Wilford is miscast as a woman who’s become a cougar after years in a loveless marriage. She’s a rapacious sexual predator, but she’s not the focus of the play, so she remains two-dimensional.
A yearning for meaning, connectedness and tenderness permeates Iguana, but both Williams’ script and Harris’ direction struggle to balance poetic insights and wry outbursts. Fitzpatrick brought believable subtlety to her character, but the rest of Iguana felt unbalanced or overheated.
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre at Columbia Performance Center in Columbia-Tusculum, continues through Oct. 23. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.