Night of the New Iguana
“Didn’t we have real iguanas in Dallas?” “Yes!” says Preston Lane. “And they were nightmares. They hissed, they bit, they pooed. The actor who had to bring them on stage, his arms were covered in scratches, but the minute they got under the stage lights, they thought it was the sun and they completely stopped moving.”
Lane, artistic director at Triad Stage, Production Manager Christy Weikel and I — Dallas Theater Center veterans all — pool our collective memories of the 2001 production of Night of the Iguana over the brass bar at 223 South Elm. The doors are locked and the benches pulled in for the night, making it an ideal spot for a little memory purge.
So purge we do, starting with the most memorable aspect of the Dallas production — the set. It was insane, a Walt Spangler special. A gorgeous half pipe of bent plywood and rich greens that threatened to buck the clumsier members of the cast into the front row. The actors despised it. “Actor’s Equity has actually made rules about raked stages,” Lane says. “We cannot even do that set anymore. That set would be illegal.”
I’m gonna level with you. My memory of Iguana is incomplete, thanks to the good bartenders at the Lakewood Landing (affectionately known as the Liquid Landing). Flotsam from the production drift to the surface of my consciousness like bits of a dream: Rum Cocos, Pedro and Pancho’s hammock play, the Rev. Shannon and those feisty lizards. Not a single line of dialogue survived the alcoholic pummeling.
Sure I saw more than 30 performances the first time around, back when Lane was an artistic associate in Dallas and Triad Stage a gutted space on Elm Street. But I need a refresher course.
“It’s an amazing play,” Lane says. “It’s about loneliness, the hunger for faith, human compassion and touch.” Weikel, who stage managed the first production, remembers better than I do. “As much as I joke about Hannah,” she says, “I feel like it’s a completely different experience with this Hannah. She has a really different energy.”
Huh. I didn’t even remember Hannah. Lane is not remounting the Dallas production here in Greensboro. He added the play to this season at the request of persistent audience members, and because it’s one of his favorites. The Tennessee Williams script concerns the convergence of several down-and-out characters in the overgrown jungles of Mexico.
There are a few things the director is taking from Dallas, particularly the props, including a 1940s inflatable horse on loan from the Theater Center. Right now that particular piece is being patched up for opening.
Iguana is the first show both Lane and Weikel have done twice. “In America, we don’t have the resources to allow us to really spend the time with a play like the great European theaters do,” Lane says. “Going back to something, it’s like you get more time with it.” “It’s much more actors’ theater this time around,” Lane says. “I don’t feel the need to paint with quite such broad strokes.”
There’s an age issue too, although Lane doesn’t want to get too specific, he will admit that the first time around, he was younger than the 35-year-old Shannon, and now he’s not. Iguana was a big hit in Dallas, earning rave reviews from both the Morning News and the Observer. A number of local ministers wrote up the production in church bulletins, which drove parishioners into the seats.
That might happen in Greensboro, too. But there are things from the Dallas production that won’t be repeated in the Gate City. Howard Jones’ set moves up and across the Pyrle Theatre’s thrust stage in conventional right angles. Triad Stage’s Rum Cocos will be served, correctly, in green coconuts instead of brown ones. Lane also replaced all the members of the cast — including the iguanas. He won’t say much about their reptilian replacements, except to promise a better command of the stage and improved behavior off it. But maybe all that hissing and biting wasn’t the iguanas fault at all. Maybe they just hated the stage too.
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TRIAD STAGE presents: Night of the Iguana Sept. 3-21 232 S. Elm St. Greensboro