viernes, 26 de marzo de 2010

The Night of the Iguana

The Night of the Iguana (New Directions, 2009)
by Tennessee Williams
USA, 1961

With practically every reason in the world to take a swipe at this work, I have to admit that I actually enjoyed this Tennessee Williams play in spite of its stereotypical characters, fairly heavyhanded symbolism, and that "theatrical" timing thing where major characters conveniently die at the end of an act.  Although the idea of a platonic love story of sorts having to do with a defrocked cleric turned jailbait-obsessed tour guide and a spinsterly New England portrait artist still sounds like a really bad idea to me, Williams must have done something right to make their hunger for connection between people feel real by the end of Act Three.  Maddeningly, what that something was isn't entirely clear to me at this point.  While the dialogue's snappy enough and occasionally even very striking, certain exchanges among the characters seem dated beyond belief.  Making allowances for the possibility that the playwright might have intended this anachronistic vibe given the Mexico 1940 setting, I'm still not sure I can explain away either the overheated tone or how extremely annoying most of the characters are.  In short, I'm essentially mystified by how Williams turned such a corny story into a feat of emotional legerdemain.  While you ponder whether that was a backhanded compliment or not, I will return to my vacation and the important business of eating empanadas and such in a city way more happening than my own.  Later.  (

 Tennessee (in a) Tuxedo

 Night of the Iguana was the March shared read selected by my reading group friends Claire from kiss a cloud, Emily from Evening All Afternoon, Frances from Nonsuch Book, and Sarah from what we have here is a failure to communicate.

10 comentarios:

  1. I can't believe you posted on Williams when you are still on VK in Argentina! Such dedication is truly commendable.

    I think my grandfathered-in affection for Williams means that some of his more over-the-top qualities don't bother me as much as they otherwise would...I remember a scene in the documentary The Celluloid Closet in which someone makes fun of him for the scene in his play Suddenly Last Summer where his main character is literally EATEN ALIVE by the "native boys" of the village after whom he'd lusted, and the interviewee says something like "Is Sebastian gay? Well, Tennessee did sometimes go a bit over the top..." :-D

    But I think I was exposed to him at just the right time, when all the theatricality seemed very appealing and raised no eyebrow. And now, of course, I will always have a soft spot. I would recommend watching the John Huston version when you get back & get a chance - some of the corniness is intensified but some of it is smoothed out by the great performances.

  2. My sentiments exactly. But you said it a million times better than I. So corny and cliched and the conversations dated and still enjoyable! After reading, I was craving to read more just to see maybe if I can get more satisfaction out of his other works? (And because I secretly liked the cheesiness.)

    I haven't had an empanada in five years and have been craving! Will you mail me some?

  3. I actually want to defend the theatricality because I think the word itself tells you why a play would be written thusly; that is, on the stage, overwrought prose and big speeches and caricatured people tend, on the one hand, to get muted a bit, and on the other, contribute to the magic atmosphere that is supposed to envelope you in the theater and help you suspend reality while the lights are down. (And perhaps in a way this is also what Emily was saying - that "some of the corniness is intensified but some of it is smoothed out by the great performances.")

    I would also suggest that in 1961 we were still not really in the "modern age" with either sensibility or with thoughts about acting, and Williams' style was not aberrant for this time. In fact, this was probably the heyday of "method acting" and Williams was a perfect fit for that style of acting craftsmanship.

    ...none of which is to say I liked the book all that much!

  4. Oh, I just love the theatricality of Williams's plays. His characters are so over-the-top, but he still manages to make them something other than mere types. Maybe it's by having them talk so much about their feelings, making us as readers or audience members get inside their heads and see where they're coming from and even experience a little of the crazy along with them.

  5. I've seen the movie, I remember liking it but it was a long time ago. As usual, your "review" is side-splittingly funny. Enjoy the empanadas!

  6. I like your observation of the play having an "anachronistic vibe." That's definitely something I should've picked up on. It goes with the setting as one of overheated tropical decay, which I agree could've been a bit much but, like Rhapsody said, a lot of the grand dialogue and overdone setting probably gets muted onstage.

    You're on vacation! How very lucky!

  7. I definitely struggled with the format of the piece - the theatrics - but I realized that I would like it much better staged, and therefore needed to immediately watch the film version. I liked the experience more, and some of the conversations were even more striking when spoken, but overall I was underwhelmed by the story.

  8. *Emily: I had some down time in my schedule that day, so I was happy to fulfill my contractual obligations from abroad. May finally get to the DVD this weekend, so I'll soon be able to see whether the corniness or the grandfathered-in affection is the cream that rises to the top for me in the celluloid version. Great anecdote about that doc, by the way!

    *Claire: We had remarkably similar reactions, didn't we? Sorry I couldn't deliver on the empanada front, but I can tell you where to find some really great ones if you ever visit Buenos Aires!

  9. *Jill: While I hear what you're saying and don't really take issue with any points that you've made, embracing the "theatricality" live is a different beast than embracing it on paper if you know what I mean. With Williams or anyone else for that matter. Also don't usually care for plays that have been transformed into films (they seem too artificial and overacted to me), but we'll see what happens with Iguana before too long. Thanks for reading along with us again, but I hope we can find you a readalong work that you actually enjoy one of these days!

    *Teresa: I think your point about the characters' "talkiness" prob. explains why I ended up enjoying them in spite of their over-the-top tendencies in other ways. Have to say that I haven't been to the theater in the last 5-6 years, so I envy the background that you and Frances brought to this reading. Thanks again, of course, for joining us for the discussions, and apologies to you and all the others for the delay in my response time (I was away on vacation and am only now catching up again). Cheers!

  10. *Gavin: Thanks for the kind words and the "go ahead" to have more empanadas--had them three nights in a row at one point since my father-in-law took me a place we both like so much!

    *E.L. Fay: I know you're not the only one who feels this way, but I'm not sure I agree with the idea that a lot of what I'd consider the overkill theatricality actually does get "muted" on stage. I think people are just more receptive to it than I am--on paper at least, since it's been a long time since I attended a play. On the other hand, I think Williams' setting--which you've described so well--probably corresponds to a fairly accurate remembrance of the playwright from his boozed-up perspective at the time. I.e. it may be less over the top than his tone in general. I can't remember: did you see the movie yet to compare?

    *Sarah: I can understand the reactions you and Jill had since I had some of the same reservations myself. May try and start the movie tonight, but I want to read some more Proust for Frances' readalong before I get too sleepy first!