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A meaty ‘Iguana’ — Artistic Home lets the outcasts loose in Williams’ classic

Shann(John Mossman) cracks up with Pancho one Maxine's boys (Michael Leon) 'The Night Iguana' The Artistic Home. | Tim Knight

Shannon (John Mossman) cracks up with Pancho, one of Maxine's boys (Michael Leon), in "The Night of the Iguana" at The Artistic Home. | Tim Knight

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‘The Night of the Iguana’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When: Through May 5

Where: The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand

Tickets: $32 (suggested donation)

Info: (866) 811-4111; www.theartistichome.org

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission

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Updated: May 1, 2013 1:37PM



A wildly eccentric assortment of outcasts, most of them desperately in search of some sort of home, comes together in a rundown hotel perched above a scenic spot on Mexico’s western coast. The year is 1940. Giant war clouds have gathered over Europe. A group of church ladies from Texas is getting a most unorthodox tour of their neighbor to the South. And several people are on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Things don’t look too promising for the iguana either. The giant lizard has been caught by the hotel’s pretty boy employees. Now tied up, it will be fattened up, taunted and then killed and eaten. Take THAT for a metaphor.

The play is Tennessee Williams’ rarely revived (and sadly underappreciated) play, “The Night of the Iguana.” It is now receiving a rip-roaring production by The Artistic Home, that formidable operation that, after a year as an itinerant company, is inaugurating its intimate new storefront at 1376 W. Grand in the West Town neighborhood.

Williams is often thought of as the great sensualist with an uncanny ability to capture people in extreme emotional crisis — a writer unsparing in his assessment of human nature. That certainly is the case in “Iguana.” But the playwright also was a cagey social and political commentator who demonstrated that individual character IS political in many ways. And Kathy Scambiatterra, a superb director, gets right to the meat of that matter here.

The most flamboyant of the visitors to this Mexican hideaway is the Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (the smart, fiercely energetic, intensely watchable John Mossman, who is certainly the human embodiment of that iguana). A disgraced minister at a church in Virginia, he now leads tours through Mexico, often going off on detours to expose his American travelers to a far more raw vision of life than they had expected.

As he has done before, Shannon has come to the hotel to have a breakdown. The place is operated by another American ex-pat, Maxine Faulk (the on-target Miranda Zola), a brash, middle-aged woman, recently widowed and hungry for sex. The two interact in what might well be seen as a warmup for Edward Albee’s George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

Shannon develops a more dreamily humane relationship with two other veteran world travelers who have arrived penniless and at the end of the road. Hannah Jelkes (a remarkable performance by the beautiful and talented Kelly Owens) is a complicated, virginal, patrician-bohemian from New England who has devoted her life to her grandfather, Nonno (Walter Brody), a “midlevel” poet now closing in on death.

Along with an outraged tour leader from Texas (played ideally by Jane DeLaubenfels), and her under-age charge who has bedded Shannon, there also is a family of Nazis. In full Teutonic force, they storm across the patio (a richly atmospheric set by Ira Amyx), serving as a vivid reminder of what can happen when civility is lost.

As the Reverend Shannon himself might say about it all: “Fantastic.”



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