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Tennessee Williams Returns to Ross

Ross Valley Players are producing Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana” in tribute to the playwright’s 100th birthday last year. Williams’ last visit to The Barn was in 1979 for “The Glass Menagerie,” his first big success. That play won him a Pulitzer. He was thirty-four then.
Two years later, he came up with “Streetcar Named Desire” and then, when he was forty-four, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and another Pulitzer. “Night of the Iguana” was produced in 1961, when the playwright was fifty. A number of significant changes had happened in his life by then.

By the ‘60s, Tennessee Williams had come to terms with his own homosexuality and had formed a long partnership with Frank Merlo. He had not overcome his alcoholism, however, and had also developed an increasing dependence on prescription drugs. Merlo developed lung cancer and died in 1963. By the end of the decade, Williams’ brother had him hospitalized for his addictions.
“Night of the Iguana,” reaches back to a 1940 trip to Acapulco in which young Williams bonded with another writer who was also in desperate condition. The notes he took then formed the basis of a short story that eventually became the play.

This work isn’t set in the south, but in Mexico, in the fictional Puerto Barrio. All its characters are troubled. The Rev. Lawrence Shannon is trying to restore himself in the church, maintain sobriety and fend off the advances of Maxine, the innkeeper. Increasingly slovenly, Maxine satisfies her lust with her Mexican houseboys and then complains that they lack discipline.

Prim, ladylike Hannah arrives pushing her grandfather’s wheelchair. Her life is devoted to his needs. “Nonno” is a poet, as was Williams, but he’s almost ninety-eight now. They scratch out a bare existence selling Nonno’s poems and Hannah’s sketches of tourists.

Outside the hotel, honking loudly for attention, is a busload of Baptist female tourists, demanding the comfortable accommodation that Shannon, their tour leader, had promised. One of the women, Charlotte, is only sixteen, and she’s already had an affair with Shannon, for which she expects him to marry her. Charlotte’s chaperone, Miss Fellowes (Sandi Rubay) rages continually and vows reprisals. Further, a big storm is brewing, and a captured iguana, which “tastes like Texas chicken,” is scuffling around below.

Even Tennessee Williams cannot resolve this situation satisfactorily. The play’s ending forecasts itself a long way off.

As Lawrence Shannon, Eric Burke is onstage almost all the time and has an exhausting load of script. We want to like Rev. Shannon, but he makes this impossible when he defends his seduction of Charlotte with, “she asked for it.” Maxine (Cat Bish) copes with isolation by being overly upbeat and sloppy, while Hannah (Kristine Ann Lowry,) fits Shannon’s description of her as “a thin, standing-up female Buddha.”

Nonno (Wood Lockhart) seems to dodder more when he wants attention. He recites his poems in a strong voice, especially the epic he’s been working on. Young Charlotte (Kushi Beauchamp) escapes Miss Fellowes long enough to beg Shannon to let her help him.

Jake Latta, the substitute tour guide, is played by Mark Toepfer, Hank, the bus driver, by Richard Kerrigan, and Maxine’s two houseboys by Eric Sadler and Noah Benet.
“Night of the Iguana,” directed by Cris Cassell, will be at The Barn Theatre in the Marin Art & Garden Center, Ross, Thursdays through Sundays until June 17. Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices range from $17 to $25. An audience “talk back” with the actors and director will be offered after the matinees on May 27 and June 10.

For complete information, call 456-9555 or see www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

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