It’s a homecoming of sorts for director Michael Wilson as he presents playwright Tennessee Williams at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) this month, guiding an all-star cast through what was the writer’s last great critical and commercial success.
First performed in 1961, “The Night of the Iguana,” explores familiar Williams territory: sex, desire, dysfunction, and despair. The play follows defrocked-preacher-turned-tour-guide T. Lawrence Shannon on a trek through Mexico with travelers from a Baptist women’s college. At a remote hotel run by Shannon’s friend Maxine Faulk, he encounters hotel guest Hannah Jelkes, who helps him confront his longtime demons.
“It’s not a flawless play, but it’s a great play in what it achieves in its storytelling and its exploration of big themes,” said Wilson, whose first job after college was as the A.R.T.’s house manager in 1987. There’s “also that undeniably, incredibly intoxicating power Williams has to transport an audience through setting, mise en scène elements, and really grabbing the ideas of desire and living fully.”
The show’s standout cast will no doubt heighten the experience. The production includes Tony winners Elizabeth Ashley, James Earl Jones, and Amanda Plummer, Emmy winner Dana Delany, and Broadway veteran Bill Heck, along with A.R.T. alumnus and Harvard lecturer on the dramatic arts Remo Airaldi.
Such talented and veteran actors, said Wilson, bring subtlety and sophistication to their performances.
He cautions audiences not to be fooled by Jones’ portrayal of the play’s frail, elderly poet Nonno. He’s a deft actor simply playing a character, and still a demanding presence whose years of theater and film experience add layers of nuance to this somewhat quieter performance, said Wilson.