Travelers can be lonely, troubled people, especially when they are characters in a Tennessee Williams play. In Southern Rep's production of The Night of the Iguana, a defrocked minister-turned-tour guide struggles with an impending breakdown while trying to keeping his tour group satisfied.
After being banned from his church, the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Mike Harkins) became a tour guide and developed a habit of sleeping with women on his tours. On this trip to Mexico, a woman from his church accuses him of having slept with a 16-year-old girl, which could lead to a charge of statutory rape. Partly due to distress, Shannon leads his group of "Christian ladies" off the beaten path to newly widowed Maxine Faulk's (Troi Bechet) hotel.
Harkins gave a riveting performance, his voice and hands quivering with unease. He's a troubled man, and we see him bursting at the seams to keep his life together. Maxine is a jealous woman, but she offers him comfort in the form of companionship, and Bechet offered a bold and sometimes comical performance.
On the brink of losing his tour guide job, Shannon meets Hannah Jelkes (Aimee Hayes), who has arrived at the hotel with her "minor poet" grandfather Nonno (Bob Edes Jr.). The duo are world travelers and hustle money by selling paintings and reciting poems. Hannah is sly, and we are never sure of her intentions. Hayes portrays her with a mix of innocence and sadness. Hannah's world is wrapped up in her dying Nonno, who can barely walk. Edes imbues him with a sense of resilience, but still, Nonno is largely confined to a wheelchair and stutters lines from his latest poem.
In the course of a day, Hannah and Shannon become friends and start to have a profound effect on each other. Harkins and Hayes share interesting chemistry. There's a hint of avarice in both characters, and the actors' interactions added frantic urgency to the drama.
At the high-ceilinged Art Klub space, David Raphel's set featured a veranda festooned with lush tropical plants including an orange tree and shrubbery. The space, however, presents challenging acoustics, and at various points in Act 1, characters seemed to scream dialogue .
Directed by Phil Karnell, The Night of the Iguana is not uplifting, and it grapples with the somber issues of mental illness and mortality. But Southern Rep's great production values helped craft a very affecting performance. — TYLER GILLESPIE