Night of the Iguana

The Village Repertory Company

Running through April 21

The Village Playhouse

730 Coleman Blvd. 856-1579

Mexico, 1940. In the midst of what could be called a nervous breakdown, tour guide and ex-minister Larry Shannon brings a busload of Bible college females to the Costa Verde Hotel. His old friend Maxine, now a randy new widow, runs the hotel. It’s the off-season, so only a few guests are staying. There’s a German family, the Fahrenkopfs, who give delighted updates on the destruction of London as the Blitz progresses. A New England spinster, Hannah, and her poet grandfather Nonno arrive, penniless and desperate for shelter.

It’s a perfect setting and a perfect group of people for Tennessee Williams’ 1961 play (considered to be the last of his greats). The characters and the location are soaked in hot desperation, loneliness, and personal devils. In this, the Village Playhouse’s fifth Williams production, the company channels many of the deep undertones and themes present in the play, but a little more subtlety could have made a good show great.

Dave Reinwald is appropriately disheveled and befuddled as the defrocked minister relegated to guiding tours through “God’s land.” Even though sometimes he quietly rambles through monologues, his understated manner works for a man who is giving up on life.

The production gets some good performances from the smaller roles. Much of the rest of the cast, though, often overplays. There’s a lot of shouting and overblown gestures, all of which play too big in the cozy cabaret-style venue. Samantha Andrews portrays Hannah’s frailty in a manner that would be better suited for a larger space with seats further away from the stage. The same is true for Kathy Summer’s overbearing Maxine and Missy Gossett’s extremely angry Miss Fellows, one of Shannon’s “ladies” from the tour. The familie Fahrenkopf frequently become so caught up in hamming (often evoking the Germans in the BBC’s old Blackadder sitcom episodes) that the horror of their celebration doesn’t come through, because the audience is laughing. These performance styles suggest character, but lack the nuance and dimension that an intimate venue like the Playhouse rewards.

As Nonno, Terry Davey fills the stage with warmth. Nonno’s sweetness and class set him apart from the rest, even more so than his failing health, hearing problems, and slight dementia.

But the true marvel of the production is the set by Dave Reinwald, who is technical director and apparent wizard. The thatch-roofed, veranda-ed hotel stretches across the stage with overhanging trees and winding flowered vines. The settings shake as a brewing storm approaches (with thunder and lightning effects well done, also). Somehow, Reinwald and set decorator Julie Ziff continually manage to raise the standards of the Playhouse’s designs, making the stage appear bigger with each production.

The inhabitants of Williams’ world are both abandoned and trapped — completely consumed. “It’s humiliating, not to be respected,” Maxine laments. Echoes of failure, resentment, avoidance, and withdrawal all boil down to an inescapable loneliness — the kind that can drive some people to behave erratically, some to slowly go mad, and some to lose their faith in God and humanity altogether.

Night of the Iguana isn’t exactly a feel-good work, but what do you expect from Tennessee Williams? Director Keely Enright admirably delivers a two-and-a-half-hour play that’s consistently interesting and dynamic. The cast have settled into their steamy surroundings rather convincingly; with a little toning down and shaping up, Enright and company could make this a very powerful production indeed.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.