The Night of the Iguana
by Tennessee Williams
March 2-25, 2012
Art is a hungry master, often demanding no less than all. Chekhov’s Nina, at the end of “The Seagull,” found this to be a drudgery, but there are many of the un-famous out there who render homage to the quest. Few professions require the level of perseverance that a life in the arts demands. Yet those who do persist, many unsung, make rare things every day and enjoy the inestimable privilege of hearing Shakespeare and Mozart come out of their mouths. Being an artist is making the trip to Baudelaire’s island. Once you have heard that performance or two which cannot be forgotten, which showed you what was really in the piece, which made you feel that this was the performance you always knew but hadn’t heard – there is no going back. You have heard the horns of Elfland faintly blowing. So I go to Cambridge, New York, and sit in the maternal arms of Hubbard Hall. Here I have heard fully competitive actors in great works and not getting rich. I will not forget what I saw a few nights ago, in John Hadden’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Night of the Iguana.” The role of Hannah in this rambling play, which is somehow a slow mover and melodramatic at the same time, was taken by Stephanie Moffett Hynds. This character is travelling the world with her ancient poet-grandfather, drawing portraits for survival money, it being long past the time that the old man could produce a poem for cash money. In the course of the production, the actress playing Hannah has to be, by turns, a Nantucket spinster, a con-artist, a loving granddaughter, a loner, a wooer of a highly-unsuitable man, someone who is able to see her one carnal adventure (a sordid one at that) as a kind of love, and finally at the end assume tragic stature by applying her muse-like encouragements, and hearing the greatness of the poem her grandfather finally writes. Then he dies. Then she loses the mate she might have had. Tennessee Williams! Ms. Moffett Hynds is the most lyrical actress I know – the actress whose voice affects me physically more than any other, except possibly for Rocco Sisto (I look forward very much to hearing Mr. Sisto speak – or is it sing? – a great description of music as Calaban in this summer’s Shakespeare and Company’s “The Tempest”). It is really the very sound of Ms. Moffett Hynds’ voice which arrests you. There is a strange and original connectedness in her speaking that makes me feel that her ear imagines differently from other actors’. It sneaks up on you. It is also remarkably versatile, easily able, it seems, to find the right music for each of the roles I have listed above. The largest capability she has is making this into a single thing. I saw this in a Hubbard Hall “Private Lives” which became something profound in her hands. This is an A-list actress, one of the best I have seen.
Richard Howe gave the best performance I have seen from him as the old poet. His recitation of the poem at the end of the play (that’s right – verse written by Tennessee Williams) was deep. Like so much that happens in a Williams’ drama, it was a rescued melodramatic event, a Liebestod. Mr. Howe was not the only one who had tears in his eyes at the end. Still, even what the old man is able to make seemed more like an extension of the innate beauty that Stephanie Moffett Hynds’ Hannah left on the stage. There were also fine performances from Doug Ryan as Shannon, who was more bewildered than crazy and spoke some lines softly which had great beauty. Christine Decker, Katherine Stevenson, and Kim Johnson Turner all convinced, without overplaying their parts. Hadden’s direction let the actors act. It had a welcome openness in it.