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Night Of The Iguana Essay, Research Paper
Critique on “Night of the Iguana”
November 4, 1998
A reverend’s constant struggle for decency, preserving life, and moving
forward while escaping the past are among the primary thematic characteristics in
Tennessee Williams?s “Night of the Iguana.” By far one of the most personal shows I have seen, this play seems to speak to each audience member uniquely; I at least found this true of Furman Theater’s presentation. Although the leading roles lacked in their presentation, the supporting characters where convincing and extremely engaging, pulling the intimate theater’s audience into the story. Overall, the production elements heightened the audiences viewing experience. Costuming and scenery complemented each other particularly well, creating an environment and period that enveloped the audience in the play’s setting. Without a doubt, this
was a job well done for Furman Theater.
Maxine is the proprietor of The Costa Verde, a cheap Mexican motel. Her character is established from the first few moments of the play along with her Mexican “night-swimmers.” Their personalities exude an odd mixture of
promiscuity, loneliness, and satisfaction. With the entrance of the once minister now tour guide, Larry Shannon, and his bus load of ladies from the Baptist Female College, this satisfaction is eliminated and replaced with the pain of indecency in a defrocked minister. Shannon’s justification for arriving at the Costa Verde is to rest and escape form the constant chatter and uplifting songs of the female tour group. But in reality, his condition is much more serious; he is both mentally and physically ill and feels as though the Costa Verde can act as a safe haven from the rest the world. With his tarnished reputation in the church, Shannon also has a need to be atoned for the sins he has committed. In doing this, he hopes to purify himself enough to return the pulpit.
The insatiable need for companionship and understanding are
recognized immediately in both Shannon and Maxine. Regardless of the sarcastic
comments between the two, the audience is easily convinced that both characters
could provide friendship for the other. Unfortunately, with the entrance of Hannah
Jelkes, a quick sketch artist, and her “ninety-year young” grandfather and poet,
Nonno, Williams no longer elaborates on the the relationship of Maxine and Shannon; instead he shifts focus to Shannon’s admiration for Ms.Jelkes through his constant use of “fantastic.”
Shannon and Hannah’s bond is established from their first hello. Shannon’s face seems to say, “Where have you been all my life?” Even though her reaction is not as strong in the beginning, she steadily warms to his character. The two become fast friends, eventually uncovering each others the deepest secrets; Shannon revealing his pedophile tendencies while Hannah explains her two “love experiences.” As in Moliere’s Misanthrope, the two main characters seem so different in the beginning, but we finally discover the two are very similar through the compassion as well as the conversations between Hannah and Shannon. It is because of these similarities that they could not “travel” together. It is in these final scenes that each character seems to realize their place; Shannon excepts his need for the companionship of Maxine, Hannah realizes her need for stability, and Nonno feels the desire to finish his final poem. With these revelations, Nonno dies peacefully.
As Assistant Stage Manager, I found myself watching the play on several occasions; therefore, my opinion may have a tendency to be more in favor of or contrarily, a bit harsh on the acting and direction of the show. It must first be
said that in theater giving someone a chance to play a role is necessary for the
development of an actor’s own ability. Unfortunately, it seemed that Oney took too great of a risk when casting Meggin Stailely as the forty-year-old spinster. Granted, her performance progressively improved during the run of the show, but it never peaked. At times the actress seemed almost angelic with her bright eyes and young figure. Her performance as Hannah Jelkes was not only unconvincing, but her movements on stage were awkward and unnatural. Makeup, costume, and the director’s blocking could possibly be to blame for the shortcomings in her character, but from the first rehearsal to the last performance, Stailey’s portrayal of Hannah seemed unimproved.
Stailey was not the only upset in this performance of “The Night of the Iguana.” Doug Cummins, who played the role of the defrocked minister, Larry Shannon, was equally unsettling. The personality of Larry Shannon is one of uncertainty and confusion. Although Cummins understood his character, the actor went to far, making the audience question his motives. Throughout the show, he stuttered and stumbled through lines. Although this could have been his dramatic interpretation of Larry Shannon, Cummins was not successful in distinguishing between his acting blunders and the character?s personality.
Despite the disappointing performances of both Stailely and Cummins, the supporting roles of the Nonno and Maxine, played respectively by Rhett Bryson and Kristin Stultz, were considerably more enjoyable. Some would probably agree that Bryson was destined to play the part of Jonathan Coffin, the ninety-year-old poet. His delivery and timing were perfect. Also, whether it be from the spastic movements of Cummins or inconsistency of Stailey’s character, Nonno’s presence seemed to the alleviate the tension of the audience. Overall, his performance was uplifting and refreshing; then again much of the same comments can easily be said for the old widow, Maxine.
Stultz’s performance was consistent throughout, from her first on
stage laugh to the final coaxing of Shannon. It was her energy and the strong nature of Maxine that carried the play at times. None the less, the acting of this production could not surmount to the innovative elements of production involved in the play.
The aural and visual elements of “The Night of the Iguana” were by far the most appealing aspects of the show. The opening music was particularly well matched with the show, establishing a mood as soon as the the play began. Sound also brought the most realistic quality to the stage with its creative rain and thunder claps. Serving their purpose well, these sound bites readily convinced many audience members of the upcoming storm. Sound clips, such as the screaming women, had the potential of being over the top but were done tastefully. Although at times unnoticeable, the subtlety of the sounds employed made the audience an even closer part of the events taking place. The lighting used set the mood of the play immediately, giving the audience a sense of anger in the blazing sun and near depression as well as desperation in the the cool blue haze of night. With this in mind, only in adding climate control to the elements of production could this have been better done. To establish the locale of the play, fern patterns were used in the lighting, which gave The Costa Verde its aged affect. The illumination of the tiny motel rooms worked well, enhancing the shadows of Nonno composing his poem and Shannon in his rage. By lighting the cubicles, it was almost as though two stories were able to run simultaneously. Although subtle, it was these individual functions of lighting that seemed to reinforce the central image of the play, while complimenting the aural, wardrobe, and scenic elements. A tip of the hat should definitely go to lighting and sound designers of “The Night of the Iguana” for an all-encompassing creative but realistic designs.
Bryson contributed yet another masterpiece to the show’s creative scenic design. Not only did the set assist in establishing the mood of the play, but it also created a style which flowed well with the other facets of production. The drab, worn colors used throughout the set were especially effective in creating the emotions intended by the play write. Worn wood, gossamer scrim, the rusting tin roof – it was these set pieces along with their colors and textures that were able to create a realistic locale and style. The live plants were a nice touch as well as giving the audience that reoccurring feeling of reality in the show’s technical design.
Overall, the makeup and costume designs of Kathleen Gossman were none other than spectacular. Although makeup was sparingly used in the production, not much was needed to portray the depression and loneliness of many of the characters. At times it seemed as though Nonno may have been the rosiest of the cast, but he had good cause since he was the happiest. Hannah, on the other hand, would have benefited and played a more convincing character if age enhancing makeup had been used. Granted the age makeup would have been difficult to use on the intimate thrust stage, but some makeup would have been acceptable. Up until her age was given in the dialogue, the audience might have guessed her to be in her mid-twenties.
Fortunately the actual costume design was a more successful endeavor than its counterpart. Although, outside the context of the play, the costumes were not necessarily appealing to the eye, they were consistent with the other aspects of
production. The audience is again reminded of the heat with the appearance of sweat stains on actors. Although the stains were fake and a minor addition to costumes, they worked well in establishing the locale and to some extent the nature of the characters.
The fabrics used by costume design were yet another quality that seemed to satisfy the objectives of design. Linen, for example has never been put to such good use. Whereas many people would stray from using the wrinkly fabric, Gossman used this shortcoming to her advantage to enhance the tired, worn out appearance of many of the characters, such as Larry and Nonno in their white linen suits. Using linen, although simple as it may sound, helped establish the nature of characters. Take Ms. Fellowes for instance. On first appearance, her character is set. Not only has she discovered the truth about Shannon’s unsaintly ways, but she is hot and tired. It is her wrinkled and disheveled outfit that seems to exude her emotions perfectly. Other examples include the green tones used in Hannah’s dress, which mixed well with the greenery of her environment, the playful attire of Charlotte, the well pressed look of Jake Latta, and even the Mexican’s body paint. It was this attention to detail that made “The Night of the Iguana” so realistic.
As a whole, the production elements incorporated into Furman Theater’s “The Night of the Iguana” gave the show life, which the major roles lacked. All four aspects of production intermingled well and created a setting which pulled the audience into the world of the Costa Verde. As far as the actual acting in “The Night of the Iguana” is concerned, the lead actors seemed to fall short of giving an accurate representation of their characters. Both Stailey and Cummins emitted a feeling of uncertainty in their acting which in turn gave me, the audience, a feeling of discomfort. Had it not been for the lively performances of such minor characters as the sixteen year old Charlotte Goodall, played by Megan Prewitt, “the butch vocal teacher,” Ms. Fellowes, Maxine and undoubtedly Nonno, this performance would have been significantly less interesting.
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