My initial response to Night of the Iguana is that it was one of the most interesting and unique performances I have ever seen in my life. I watched it the Friday after opening and sat on the far right in the corner of the Hartwig. Although some of my view was blocked by the props, it also gave me a personal connection with the actors towards the end of the performance when things died down and moved towards me. To be able to see people that I go to class with every single day transform into these dynamic, interesting characters and tell an amazing story was really fun. It has been a while since I’ve watched a performance rather than being in it, so it was nice to be able to lose myself in a story like that again and the scenery and props really helped (no pun intended) set the stage.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Hartwig was the glint and sparkle of the glass bottles on the stage. A stark contrast to the jungle-esque aura of the rest of the set. The textured wood and the woven hammock helped remind me of summers spent at my mother’s work. Much like the elderly people I spent my summers caring for, Hannah and her grandfather’s dialogue on the veranda were extremely reminiscent of many afternoons I spent on porches in the summer heat. The multiple textures added variety and interest to the eyes as the performance wore on.
The muted and warm colors helped create the idea of a vintage hotel. Browns, ambers and the crisp white tablecloth and cream hammock give off an aura of making a home out of a place and time never visited.
When I think of lines, I think of the levels of the set. The layers help set boundaries between certain characters. Shannon’s character tends to spend the majority of the play on the stage, while other characters, such as the older woman from his tour bus he continually argues with throughout the play mainly stay on the floor of the performance space. This seems to give off an idea that Shannon believes he is above others. It is only until other characters join him on stage (such as Maxine who also spends the majority of the performance on the stage as well) that they become in a sense equal to him. Maxine challenges him and his doesn’t allow him to talk down to her. They are equals.
When Hannah and her grandfather arrive, they must climb the stage and this helps begin their relationship with Shannon. The young girl fawning over Shannon must go straight to his door at the top of the stage to attempt to get through to him. He sends her away back down to the bottom. This not only symbolizes their age difference but his mindset that she is not important to him. On the other hand, he begins to lower himself off of the stage to be closer to Hannah as their relationship moves forward. He always wants to be on the same level as her because he is interested in her. The Mexican workers spend a good amount of time on the bottom (the ground) especially when Maxine is present giving off a sense of her superiority over them as their boss.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about the hammock. This is, other than the cart with the alcohol, one of the most important set pieces in this play. In the beginning it symbolizes relaxation for Shannon when he rushes in, frantic and stressing out about his tour group. It symbolizes carefree bliss when the Mexican boy plays his guitar. It symbolizes restraint and turmoil when Shannon is tied up and struggling. It moves into a feeling of companionship towards the end of the performance when Shannon and Hannah are talking about life with one another. As an audience member, there were a flurry of emotions I went through during the play in reference to the hammock. I really enjoy how one set piece that is normally associated with only one type of feeling can be used so dynamically to evoke different thoughts and emotions from the audience. It’s extremely fascinating to me and I hope to see more things like that as I continue to watch and perform in plays.
Movement was another wonderful aspect of this play in regards to the set. Being able to open and close the hotel doors helps create a degree of separation between characters. When Maxine storms away and slams the door, or hearing Hannah’s grandfather reciting his new poem through the door as he slowly passes away. The hammock swaying or thrashing violently helps change the mood of the scene. The alcohol cart rolling smoothly or being shoved between characters also changes the atmosphere from calm to alarming. I personally think movement was used wonderfully as a tool to help add another layer of complexity to the performance.
In terms of relevance to today, this play does a wonderful job of bringing up subjects that are not enjoyable to speak about and sending a message to the audience in a way that is interesting and engaging. Things such as religion (Shannon being a de-frocked minister and the multiple references to God), Death (Hannahs grandfather slowly losing his memory and passing away), Alcoholism and casual sex (Shannon), mental health (Shannon “going crazy”) and the struggle to survive on one’s own (Hannah, Shannon and Maxine). These things are rampant in our world today and I think people could benefit greatly from seeing a play like this. To have ideas like this put into an art form that people can enjoy and lose themselves in would be amazing. This play makes a statement about the fact that things back then are still relevant in today’s time. We tend to see things like this and say to ourselves that “it was back then it can’t matter today”, but it does. There is still death, alcoholism, and many other things shown in this play. This play shows that pushing things and people away are not healthy coping mechanisms to deal with heartache or addiction.