The Night of the Iguana – February 2017

(I don’t write reviews but I was so enthralled with The Night of the Iguana – presented by the American Repertory Theater and now playing at the Loeb Drama Center – that I wanted to make sure I wrote my feelings down before they started to fade. So number 2 in my vanity project of writing about the shows I’ve seen is the most recent one. So prepare for some manic rambling about the brilliance of this production.)

A few weeks ago I went to a play and I absolutely hated it. It’s a play I loved reading and had been waiting ages to see it on stage. I found the acting stiff, like teenagers just repeating words off a page. It depressed me how much I didn’t like it.

I won’t name it nor the actors in it because I’m definitely not a critic and I wouldn’t want someone randomly Googling their name and coming across my tiny part of the world and being made to feel terrible about themselves. Even bad actors are better actors than I am so who am I to criticize? Hand to God, I flunked acting in high school. It was an extra-curricular that I went to after school, at night. My parents paid extra for me to take the class and the instructor still asked me to NOT act.

So here’s the thing. I might be a terrible actor (I AM) but I adore the theater. And I know what I like and what I don’t like. The play I watched a few weeks ago made me wonder if seeing too many musicals had warped my view of straight plays. It was an unsettling thought. So I’m pleased that after tonight I can say I worried for nothing. The play I saw a few weeks ago just didn’t speak to me. Tonight? Tonight I saw a play that not only spoke to me but kissed me right on the mouth and offered to buy me dinner.

I bought my ticket for this show the day it was announced that James Earl Jones would be performing in it. The rest of the cast hadn’t yet been announced and having read The Night of the Iguana (but never having seen the film) I guessed his role would be relatively limited. Still, it’s tough to turn down an opportunity to not only see a seldom performed Tennessee Williams play but to witness Mr. James Earl Jones on stage right in front of your face. So for a little less than a month I have been eagerly anticipating this evening.

The casting for this turned out to be a ridiculously talented group of people I feel genuinely honored to have been able to see perform in person. Dana Delany, Amanda Plummer and Elizabeth Ashley – all actresses I’ve enjoyed on different levels. How amazing to see them work in real time.

Admittedly, until the cast was announced, I hadn’t heard of Bill Heck. Which, now that I’ve seen the show, I’m actually happy about that. I went in fangirling a bit on the big names I’d get to see performing Tennessee Williams and the name I didn’t recognize is the one who blew me away. At the end of the first act I literally said “Holy shit!” as the lights went down. (Much to the delight of the people next to me, one who turned to me and practically yelled “RIGHT???”) “Holy shit” was pretty much what I said when the show was over as well. From the moment he takes the stage he’s intense, and manic, and so full of passion he took my breath away more than a couple of times. I lost count of how often in those two hours I fell in and out of love with him as Reverend Shannon. I swear if Tennessee Williams was around to cast this play, Bill Heck would have been his first and only choice as Shannon.

So now I’m fangirling over Bill Heck.

If you see the name Bill Heck in the cast…go see the show. Just go.

(Also, aside from his brilliant acting, James Earl Jones reminded me so much of my late grandfather that every time he was on stage I had to look away for a moment to collect myself. Which of course has nothing to do with his talent but helped bring another layer of emotion – for me – to his performance.)

The rest of the cast was superb. Which I feel almost goes without saying. Amanda Plummer deserves a special mention for pretty much making me cry for the entire second act. Underrated might not be the proper word for her but I certainly don’t think the general appreciation for her talent is what it should be. I found myself following her when she was on stage even when the focus wasn’t on her, just to see what she was doing. She owned the stage for every minute she was on it – and the chemistry between Plummer and Heck was palpable.

It’s rare that I come home from the theater as charged up as I did tonight. Sure, musicals get my heart racing and I end up singing their songs for days but straight plays don’t usually stick with me as long. This one will. I can still hear the wind and practically smell the beach.

This show won’t leave me for a while. If you have the opportunity, make the trip to Cambridge before it’s gone. You won’t be sorry.

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