As sunrise signals the weary end of “The Night of the Iguana,” play’s saintly surrogate stands outside a dilapidated Mexican hotel to pray that God let them all “stop now. … It’s so quiet here, now.” Since one of Tennessee Williams’ first lines is “Great Caesar’s ghost, stop shouting!,” the bookending promises an environment of tumultuous sound, delivered (and then some) by Michael Murray’s revival at A Noise Within. But even extremes can go to extremes; this production is overwrought and undermodulated.
The life journey of several characters stops at the veranda of the Costa Verde, and in a way “Iguana” represented road’s end for its creator as well. The 1961 premiere was his last Gotham hit, ushering in an “experimental” period, rightly or wrongly disdained by critics and public alike. The late work jettisons naturalistic, recognizable human beings, and even archetypes, in favor of heavily symbolic constructs.
Hints of this new direction appear in Rev. Shannon (Geoff Elliott), whose spiritual stasis and even physicality project Lost Faith, and spinster painter Hannah (Jill Hill), proffering healing words and poppyseed tea as Heavenly Intercession.
Blowsy hotelier Maxine (Deborah Strang) is Lust; nonagenarian poet Nonno (Tom Fitzpatrick) the Creative Flame … one would not be surprised to see Knowledge and Good Works step out of a medieval morality play to drop by for a rum coco.
The story linking these symbols is wispy at best: Disgraced Shannon, reduced to tour guide, delays his bus of Baptist ladies (they’re Middle-Class Prudery) for his spiritual crisis as the others circle around him. Clearly this material demands delicacy if it’s going to impress on a level other than heavy-handed allegory.
It’s one thing for characters to shout up and down the hill, but why must they all keep shouting when they arrive? Props are slammed about, doors pounded, lines pushed, intentions forced. Though the cast keeps wiping off tropical sweat, rarely does the humidity inspire moments of weary reflection to contrast with the Feydeau-farce frenzy.
Extreme physical business, coupled with Williams’ tendency to spell out themes as if writing the play in Magic Marker, all too soon becomes all too much.
The acting follows suit. Surely the prerequisites for the dissolute, despairing cleric are keen self-loathing and a helpless carnal appetite (Shannon also represents Lechery). But Elliott replaces self-loathing with self-pity — this reverend weeps more than a busload of Blanche DuBoises — while his louche, androgynous air, coated with a thick Virginia accent of which he seems positively enamored, suggests anything but a rake who’s catnip to the ladies.
Those vying for his body or soul, depending on their point of view, fare somewhat better, though Strang lacks the miles of hard road to totally convince as Maxine Faulk (you’ve got to love that last name). And both women get swept up in the mass yelling, Hill snapping and shouting when she most needs to be an oasis of serenity amidst the hullabaloo.
After a while the sturm und drang — there are fat Nazis around this 1940 locale, too, reveling in the London Blitz — starts to come across as a substitute for genuine sexual chemistry.
Williams has characters well suited to unbridled passion, but Shannon’s underage inamorata Charlotte (Courtney Decosky) is a hysterical, jerky puppet, while Maxine’s Mexican boytoys (Andre Bauth and Andres De La Fuente) become mere furniture movers.
Ken Booth’s lights try to set a properly libidinous mood, though Sara Ryung Clement’s impressively detailed set is light on sultriness (and foliage).
The calm and occasional grace of the final half hour simply can’t overcome the impression of two hours of oversized thesping and bustle.
A Noise Within has likely never produced a show more appropriate to the company’s moniker.