The Night of the Iguana is a stage play written by American author Tennessee Williams. It is based on his 1948 short story. In 1959, Williams staged it as a one-act play, and over the next two years he developed it into a full-length play, producing two different versions in 1959 and 1960, and then arriving at the three-act version that premiered on Broadway in 1961. Two film adaptations have been made: The Oscar-winning 1964 film directed by John Huston and starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr, and a 2000 Croatian production.
The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon characterizes the Western image of God as a "senile delinquent" during a sermon and is locked out of his church. Shannon is not defrocked, but he is institutionalized for a "nervous breakdown". In 1940s Mexico, some time after his release, the Rev. Shannon is working as a tour guide for a second-rate travel agency. Shortly before the opening of the play, Shannon is accused of committing statutory rape of a 16-year-old girl, Charlotte Goodall, who is among his current group of tourists.
As the curtain rises, Shannon and a group of women arrive at a cheap hotel on the coast of Mexico managed by his friends Fred and Maxine Faulk. Fred has recently died, and Maxine has assumed sole responsibility for managing the establishment.
Struggling emotionally, Shannon tries to manage his tour party, who have turned against him for having sexual relations with the minor, and Maxine is interested in him for purely carnal reasons. Adding to this chaotic scenario, spinster Hannah Jelkes appears with her moribund grandfather, Nonno, who, despite his failing health, is composing his last poem. Jelkes, who scrapes by as a traveling painter and sketch artist, is soon at Maxine's mercy. Shannon, who wields considerable influence over Maxine, offers Hannah shelter for the night. The play's main axis is the development of the deeply human bond between Hannah and Shannon.
Minor characters in the play include a group of German tourists whose Nazi marching songs paradoxically lighten the heavier themes of the play while suggesting the horrors of World War II; the Mexican "boys" Maxine employs to help run the hotel who ignore her laconic commands; and Judith Fellowes, the "butch" vocal teacher charged with Charlotte's care during the trip.
The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon was based partly on Williams' cousin and close friend, the Reverend Sidney Lanier, the iconoclastic rector of St. Clement's Episcopal Church, New York. Lanier was a significant figure in the New York theater scene in the 1950s and 1960s, started a Ministry to the Theatre Arts, and became co-founder of the experimental American Place Theatre in 1962. Lanier resigned from his ministry in May 1965.
The play premiered on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on December 28, 1961, and ran for 316 performances. It starred Patrick O'Neal as Rev. Shannon, two-time Oscar winner Bette Davis as Maxine, and Margaret Leighton as Hannah. Davis left the production after four months and was replaced by Shelley Winters.
Maxine, Davis's role, is a lusty life-force of a woman, with some good comic lines, who is offstage for a significant part of the play, while Hannah is on. The play featured Louis Guss, Bruce Glover, James Farentino, and Alan Webb as the dying grandfather to whom Hannah is devoted. The production was directed by Frank Corsaro. (In her memoir, Dark Victory, Davis wrote that she banned Corsaro from rehearsals shortly before opening). The play was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. Leighton, as Hannah, won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
Main article: The Night of the Iguana (film)
John Huston directed the 1964 film and co-wrote the screenplay with Anthony Veiller. It stars Richard Burton as Rev. Shannon, Ava Gardner as Maxine and Deborah Kerr as Hannah. The cast includes Sue Lyon, Cyril Delevanti, Grayson Hall (who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Miss Fellowes) and Barbara Joyce (who later became an acclaimed artist).
The film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design (B&W), and was nominated for Art Direction and for Cinematography (by Gabriel Figueroa), as well as for Hall's performance.
The film eliminates the Nazi tourists and the character of Jake Latta, and Shannon is fired through a comical telephone call.
A Croatian film adaptation, directed by Janusz Kica, was released in 2000.
The 1976 Broadway revival at the Circle in the Square Theatre was directed by Joseph Hardy, with scenery and lighting by H.R. Poindexter, and costumes by Noel Taylor. Randall Brooks was production stage manager and James Bernadi was stage manager.
The opening night cast featured Richard Chamberlain (Rev. Shannon), Gary Tacon (Pedro), William Paulson (Pancho), Ben Van Vacter (Wolfgang), Jennifer Savidge (Hilda), John Rose (Herr Fahrenkopf), Amelia Laurenson (Frau Fahrenkopf), Matt Bennett (Hank), Barbara Caruso (Judith Fellows), Allison Argo (Charlotte Goodall), William Roerick (Nonno), Benjamin Stewart (Jake Latta), Dorothy McGuire (Hannah), and Sylvia Miles (Maxine).