The Night of the Iguana

garret dillahunt,theatre,the night of the iguanaTHE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

Character: Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Massachusetts

August 2006

WRITTEN BY: Tennessee Williams

DIRECTED BY: Anders Cato


Linda Hamilton – Maxine Faulk
Garret Dillahunt – Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon
Amelia Campbell – Hannah Jelkes
Aya Cash – Charlotte Goodall
Sam Kitchin – Jake Latta
Charlotte Meier – Judith Fellows
William Swan – Nonno



The time is 1940 so that the coastal and emotional storms brewing in Maxine Faulk’s little hotel might seem trivial when compared to the world wide disturbances of the war raging in Europe. But Williams was not a political writer, so no major damage is done by director Cato’s streamlining the script by deleting the original production’s four German tourists whose main function was to express glee about the bombs devastating London (these characters were also expunged from the 1964 film adaptation). This less populated version of the play (I seem to recall previously seeing more of the Texas teachers detoured by their reverend-turned-tour guide to Maxine’s hotel instead of a more centrally located, modern hostelry) works well for BTF’s rather narrow stage and Carl Sprague’s beautifully efficient impressionistic scenic design.

Most importantly, what’s untouched is the poetry that was and still is the hallmark of Williams’ greatness and the sad wonderful characters, whose kinship to other Williams characters who would be stereotypical sexy vamps and fragile loserss in the hands of a less remarkably gifted writer. Here we have Maxine Faulk as the Williamesque vamp. and Hanna Jelkes and Reverend Shannon as the lost, lonely souls, the latter as unable to survive as the iguanas caught by the Mexican fisherman and tied up and teased before finally being eaten. But for all the poetry and sadness there’s the humor. Having last seen this play in 1996 I’d forgotten just how funny it is.

The excellent cast features two actors well known for their screen work. Never having seen Terminator and Terminator 2 I was unfamiliar with Linda Hamilton but she’s deliciously brash, bosomy and bossy as the sexually avaricious widow Maxine Faulk. Though she’s tough and controlling, Hamilton also conveys a streak of vulnerability that’s as typical of Williams’ sexual predators as his losers.

I also never saw Garret Dillahunt on Deadwood, but I do remember how ably he tapped into the melancholy beneath the the incorrigibly flirtatious Hector Hushabye in another Cato directed BTF revival, Heartbreak House. As the defrocked Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (and Williams alter ego and the play’s Blanche DuBois counterpart), Dillahunt is attractive enough to make his seductions credible enough, sufficiently worn and desperate to make it evident that he is on the verge of nervous collapse. He also manages to be wryly funny, as when he describes how he became “inactive in the church” just a year after being ordained. [Curtain Up]

The Costa Verde is the setting for “The Night of the Iguana,” first produced in 1961 and the last of the great plays by Tennessee Williams that mapped the terrible limbo of human loneliness. And in the amiable, low-key revival at the Berkshire Theater Festival here, Garret Dillahunt hunkers down in this sunny Mexican fleapit as if it were his natural home.

Mr. Dillahunt has cut a swath on television in the last few years by playing not one but two seriously bad guys in the gritty “Deadwood” on HBO and an unnervingly accessible Jesus in the short-lived NBC series “The Book of Daniel.” (…)

What this “Iguana” has, though, is a limpidness that lets you perceive the play’s themes and patterns in ways that a more ambitious, aggressively acted production might not. Even when the performers don’t entirely inhabit their roles, you don’t doubt that they understand who their characters are, and they invite you to share that understanding. In the case of Mr. Dillahunt, in particular, this leads to a gentle shock of revelation.

The role of Shannon, a church-group tour guide with a weakness for alcohol and under-age virgins, was indelibly stamped by Richard Burton, who played it in the enjoyable if bowdlerized 1964 movie, directed by John Huston. Hard-drinking, burned-out cases of dangerous seductiveness were, after all, that actor’s stock in trade.

But in truth, Burton’s characterization, all brooding sonorousness and whiskey-rotted virility, was more out of Malcolm Lowry or Graham Greene than Tennessee Williams.

Mr. Dillahunt plays Shannon with an epicene edge. A delicacy and a yielding sensuality infuse his soft, languorous speech. He brings to mind the Southern gentleman as aesthete from a bygone age, and he wears the perpetually affronted look of someone for whom the contemporary world is too coarse and cruel to be endured.

It makes life all the tougher that he finds such coarseness and cruelty within himself, and he wears his crucifix and clerical collar as if they scorched his skin. [NY Times]

‘You look like you had it,” Maxine says.

“You look like you’ve been having it, too.” Rev. Shannon replies.

This initial exchange between the recently defrocked Rev. Lawrence Shannon (Garret Dillahunt) and the recently dehusbanded Maxine Faulk (Linda Hamilton) get the first laughs in Berkshire Theatre Festival’s excellent production of Tennessee Williams’ 1961 play The Night of the Iguana and sets the scene for the rest of performance. Dillahunt’s Shannon is one step away from the gutter, and Hamilton’s deliciously named Faulk just rolled out of it. What exhausts Shannon is what enflames Maxi Faulk, and she eyes the handsome on-the-edge ex-minister like a devout communicant awaiting the Host. Unlike Williams’ other great plays, under Anders Cato’s sensitive direction, BTF’s Iguana finds the surprising laughter at the heart of the play, and the surprising hopeful ending. Threats of death, abandonment, betrayal, and madness circle Williams’ Iguana, but they ultimately stay out of the illumination thrown off by Maxi Faulk’s fire for brittle Rev. Shannon.

Iguana tells the story of the newly widowed Faulk and her healthy “swimming boys” Pancho (Ricky Fromeyer) and Pedro (Joshua Gunn) as the three act as caretakers for the Costa Verde Hotel in Puerto Barrio on the west coast of Mexico in 1940. Plopped into their sweaty midst are Shannon, an Episcopalian minister-turned-tour guide who was “locked out of his parish for fornication and heresy in the same week.” Shannon has a love-hate relationship with teenage girls—he loves them and then immediately hates himself for the act. As the action begins, he brings a tour of teenage girls from a Baptist College under the watchful eyes of brass-lunged chaperone Miss Judith Fellows (an excellent Charlotte Maier) which brings new definition to “living hell,” and Nantucket spinster Hannah Jelkes (Amelia Campbell) with her grandfather Jonathan Coffin (expertly played by BTF veteran William Swan), at 97 the “oldest living and practicing poet.”

The game playing, revelations, humiliations, and ultimate redemption play out with a heady mirth as intoxicating as the “rum cocos” Maxi continually drinks. Dillahunt (who has appeared on HBO’s Deadwood) is riveting as a man whose sexual prowess and proclivity are at odds with his intelligence and soul. Only Hamlet would be a match for Rev. Shannon’s tortured mirth. Campbell makes a fitting foil for Dillahunt, matching his sweating sexual contradictions with a cool, almost clinical acceptance and observations of all things human. [Metroland]