CEDAR RAPIDS —The Night of the Iguana on the back lawn at Brucemore is a beautiful evening of theater that will make you laugh, think and above all, feel for Tennessee Williams’ fragile, damaged creatures.
However, you have to pay attention. Virtually all of the “action” and humor happen in the first act, leaving folks in high spirits for intermission noshing and restroom line banter. But, Act II is cerebral and sedate, with two characters baring their souls after going through a moment of great angst and a physical struggle at the top of the scene.
The play ends quietly, with a measure of satisfaction in the way key figures will forge new paths through their pain.
The show opened July 12 to 235 enthusiastic audience members toting picnics, chairs and blankets and continues through July 21.
The beauty of Tennessee Williams, the University of Iowa’s greatest playwriting graduate, is the language and pathos of clearly drawn characters to whom we’re drawn because of their deep flaws and troubled lives, from “The Glass Menagerie” to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
That same language is also the challenge for listeners who have been eating, drinking and making merry with friends gathered on the gorgeous grounds near the historic mansion’s duck pond. The atmosphere is idyllic for outdoor theater, with majestic old pines and creaking creatures of the night providing the backdrop and soundscape of which dreams are made.
- The Classics at Brucemore presents “The Night of the Iguana”
- at 8 p.m. Thursday to July 14 and July 19 to 21; gates open at 7 p.m.
- Tickets: $18 adults, $15 Brucemore members and students in advance at the Brucemore store or (319) 362-7375; $20 at the gate
- Parking is available on the grounds; bring seating, picnics, beverages
But on a hot July night devoid of breeze, it’s hard to keep engaged with the dialogue, and much easier to let your mind wander to the bat and dragonfly darting about.
As always, the acting, costumes, scenery, lighting and ambience are superb for this 17th Classics at Brucemore production. Sound is a tad inconsistent. While it seems like a couple of actors are wearing body mics, others are pushing to the edge of their voices to make themselves heard, especially over the evensong of cicadas and frogs.
The action takes place in the Mexican rain forest on a high hill overlooking the Pacific coast. It’s 1940, when resorts were really just shacks with a mix of thatched and rusty tin roofs, rotting wicker and a hammock. A special shout-out goes to Derek Easton from Theatre Cedar Rapids for his intricate set design which perfectly captures the mood, right down to the whirling ceiling fan and wooden wind chimes.
Bonnie Moses’ costumes transport us instantly to a time when genteel men wore white linen suits and Panama hats with sharp black trim under the hot tropical sun, and young women wore one-piece rompers to frolic on the beach. The setting Iowa sun mirrors the advance of the play, where all of the action occurs in the span of a day.
Sound and light design add plenty of beeping horns down the path to the sea and a gathering storm, parallel to the gathering storm of sexual tension and heat-fueled anger among the characters.
Veteran actor Jim Kropa plays The Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon, a man locked out of his church 10 years ago for fornication and heresy, then sent to a mental asylum to “recuperate.” Now he leads tours of “God’s world,” with his current flock of female tourists hailing from a Baptist college in Texas. After one of the teenage girls throws herself at him for a night of unbridled passion, he seeks refuge at the Costa Verde Hotel in Puerto Barrio, owned by his recently widowed friend, Maxine Faulk.
Marty Norton fully embraces the lusty, insatiable Maxine who also throws herself at Shannon, as well as the young Mexican men in her employ. Norton is pitch-perfect in every instant onstage, but did seem to be straining to make her voice heard in the night air.
Kropa enters the show in a frenzy, throwing himself about the stage in a way that seems too intense for the situation. Soon it becomes apparent that he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His frenetic pacing is unnerving — he’s much more compelling when he’s more quiet and introspective.
Len Struttmann turns in one of the evening’s more intriguing performances as a 97-year-old poet who is trying to compose his first verse in 20 years, which also will be his last. Unable to see and write well enough to pen his words, he instead speaks them aloud over and over, to commit them to memory. He moves slowly and deliberately through his scenes, and provides a constant drone of mumbling from his room, creating an eerie underscore to the action unfolding onstage.
His granddaughter Hannah (the luminous Katy Slaven) becomes the real refuge for Shannon, helping him sort out the jumbled mess of his fraying mind.
Providing some much needed comic relief are a group of German tourists who wander in and out of the trees and Megan Turner Ginsberg as the bullish leader of the Baptist women’s group, constantly shaking her finger in Shannon’s face. All of the minor characters add a light depth and dimension to the gripping drama.
From the preshow performance by Mariachi De Colores to the fiesta picnics and superb acting in a magnificent setting, “The Night of the Iguana” is a glorious way to immerse yourself in a theatrical experience.
- Diana Nollen