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Theater | Theater Review

Brightness in the Storm

Sets, sound and lighting shine, helping stir emotion, desire in 'Night of the Iguana.'

February 01, 2001|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana" slithers dangerously between profundity and mere chin-wag in Simon Levy's staging at the Fountain Theatre. However, as in the production's beautifully realized storm sequence, there are flashing moments that hint at some larger truth.

Williams' tale of seaside sturm-und-angst revolves around the central character of T. Lawrence Shannon (Larry Poindexter), a dishonored, down-and-out former minister whose predilection for underage girls has landed him in Mexico, where he scratches out a living as a guide for a fly-by-night touring company. To the dismay of the maiden lady tourists on board his latest tour, Shannon diverts their bus to the fleabag hotel operated by his longtime friend Maxine Faulk (Karen Kondazian), who has just lost her husband and is now trolling for a replacement. As the clouds--emotional and actual--mass on the horizon, into the stormscape wander itinerant spinster Hannah Jelkes (Jacqueline Schultz) and her aged grandfather Nonno (Jay Gerber). To jealous Maxine's dismay, Hannah and Shannon are surprisingly simpatico. Could this be need?

Richard Burton's performance in John Huston's 1964 film of the play was soporifically internalized. Poindexter makes a lively Shannon, his Southern garrulity intact even as he hovers on the brink of his latest mental collapse. This Scarlett-on-steroids approach works well until Shannon's actual crackup, in which Poindexter merely amplifies the manic quality of his earlier scenes, seldom pausing to let us feel his character's anguish and exhaustion.

Kondazian, who has become closely associated with Williams' heroines in the course of her stage career, is a sure-fire Maxine, lusty, calculating and self-serving. No earth mother, she is instead an earth vamp, rolling in the dirt of her own prodigious appetites. In effective contrast, Schultz is a cool, Apollonian Hannah, although she could show more of the ravaging after-effects of her character's past mental struggles.

Irene Roseen, who plays an angular harridan out to get Shannon fired, and Amy Lucas, as a lubricious underage miss who won't take no for an answer, provide comic relief without compromising their characters' believability. Gerber's lyrical performance as Nonno, the dying poet struggling to finish his last poem, is one of the play's blinding flashes--Williams' loving paean to all artists.

The production is greatly enhanced by its transcendent technical elements. In particular, John Patrick's set, Sara Bader's sound and Kathi O'Donohue's lighting are Broadway-caliber, even more remarkable considering the space and budget constraints of sub-100-seat theater. The stunning rain effect at the end of the first act has to be seen to be believed.

*

* "The Night of the Iguana," Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends March 4. $22. (323) 663-1525. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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