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Tennessee Waltzing

[whitespace] The Night of the Iguana Bottle Up and Go: James Carpenter and Molly Mayock in 'The Night of the Iguana.'

Photo by David Allen

'Iguana' pulls together disparate dramatic parts

By Anne Gelhaus

PART OF Tennessee Williams' skill as a playwright was his ability to walk the line between drama and melodrama. While he definitely leaned toward the latter when it came to plotting and dialogue, he always gave his characters enough depth to tip the balance back toward the former.

This balance is even more delicate than usual in The Night of the Iguana, but director Kenneth Kelleher has deftly separated the characters from the caricatures in TheatreWorks' current production.

Kelleher allows the more ridiculous denizens of the Costa Verde Hotel--such as the overtly Aryan family on "vacation" in Mexico at the height of WWII--to be ridiculous while insisting that his principals approach their roles with as much dignity as their characters' various neuroses will accommodate.

James Carpenter turns in a wonderfully understated performance as the potentially over-the-top Reverend Shannon, whose sexual dalliances and unorthodox view of God got him bumped from the pulpit early in his career.

The not-quite-right reverend has been reduced to driving a tour bus, a job he stands to lose because of his insistence on deviating from the itinerary to show his charges the seamier side of Mexico. Carpenter's Shannon is all bottled-up rage masked by a thin veneer of gentility; in his losing battle for self-control, he emerges as a potent, if pitiable, figure.

Molly Mayock manages to humanize what is essentially the bitch-goddess character of Maxine, owner/manager of the Costa Verde. As coarse as she is, Maxine's forthrightness and guilelessness stand out in a group of otherwise desperate and manipulative people.

The most desperate and manipulative of the bunch is Hannah (Teri McMahon), a spinster who forms an unlikely alliance with Shannon in order to facilitate her stay at the hotel. Although the two reveal many of their deepest secrets to each other, McMahon portrays Hannah with an appropriate air of mystery; as much as she tells Shannon, there seems to be a lot more she's not saying.

Hannah is traveling with her grandfather, a 97-year-old poet who has been trying for 20 years to finish his latest work. Roger Larson, who stepped into the role when another actor took sick, gives Nonno's last poem such a heartfelt recitation that it's hard to judge how good the verse actually is.

The same can be said of the play in general: The Night of the Iguana is the sum of some very disparate parts, and it takes skillful handling to make them come together as well as they do in TheatreWorks' production.

The Night of the Iguana plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday (Jan. 25) at 7pm and Sunday (Feb. 1) at 2pm, through Feb. 1 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Castro and Mercy streets, Mountain View. Tickets are $10-$31. (650/903-6000)

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From the January 22-28, 1998 issue of Metro.

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