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Thursday, April 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
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THEATER

Going down?
A minister hits bottom in Night of the Iguana

The characters struggle for human connection.
The characters struggle for human connection.
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"Fast decay is a thing of hot climates," observes the Reverend Larry Shannon in the jumpy, quivering vocal rhythms of a man who is quickly unraveling. A disgraced minister-turned-tour guide at war with God, booze and sex, Shannon has come to find solace at the rundown resort of a friend off Mexico's west coast in 1940.

Yet his personal demons - "the spook," as he refers to them - have their hold on Shannon and won't let go, forming the dramatic core of Tennessee Williams' 1961 play The Night of Iguana, now playing at Spring Green's American Players Theatre.

Jim DeVita's performance as Shannon is perhaps a little too loose, but not inconsistent with his character's mental state. His friend, the bawdy widow Maxine Faulk, proprietor of the Costa Verde Hotel - Tracy Michelle Arnold in a role originated by Bette Davis - is in some ways his female counterpart. The frankness of their exchanges is undergirded by mutual affection. Shannon offers Maxine a combative spark that her husband didn't. "Dear old Fred...was so patient and tolerant with me that it was insulting to me. A man and a woman have got to challenge each other," she declares.

Despite some flubbed lines early in the play, the cast steadied itself, and Iguana gained even surer footing with the entrance of Colleen Madden as Hannah Jelkes, an itinerant artist traveling with her poet grandfather. Poor but proud and well mannered, Hannah offers Shannon a different sort of challenge than earthy Maxine - an intellectual and moral one. While Maxine may be a match to one side of Shannon, Hannah is counterpart to another side he didn't even know existed.

During last Saturday's opening night at the outdoor theater, nature seemed like an additional character. While insect noises and strong winds made it hard to hear certain bits of dialogue, the steamy, potentially stormy weather fit perfectly with Williams' script. Thankfully, the storms held off until after the show, but weather that was positively tropical by Wisconsin standards helped set the mood.

While I don't like everything about Williams' script (namely, his inclusion of some cartoonishly stereotyped German characters that seem like they've waltzed in from a different play), his take on the struggle for human connection is affecting. To me, Iguana suggests that true connection is only possible when people see each other for who they really are, outside of desire, expectation or delusion.

Madden is especially fine in her role as Hannah; she's got a pure, piercing quality that seems just right for the character. Madden has proven herself (here and in other local theater work) as an actor of exquisite control and calibration. Arnold gives Maxine gusto, honing in on her physicality and blunt honesty. And DeVita gives Shannon the shambling quality of a man on the way down, still hoping for redemption.

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