Century College is opening its theater season tomorrow with one of playwright Tennessee Williams’ lesser-known works, “The Night of the Iguana.”
“I think it’s a little bit of an unsung hero in the Tennessee Williams canon,” said Twin Cities actor and guest director Sean Dooley.
Dooley believes Williams was at the top of his game when he wrote “The Night of the Iguana.” In fact, Dooley says it’s every bit as good as the playwright’s more famous plays, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or “The Glass Menagerie.”
To Dooley, the work’s obscure status offers Century students and the public a unique opportunity.
“We get to do a great play by a great playwright, but people aren’t familiar with it,” he said.
“It’s a rare find to be able to see this play,” said Dena Urbano of Stillwater, who plays the character of Frau Fahrenkopf in Century’s production.
Fahrenkopf, a German tourist in Mexico during World War II, provides comic relief in a play that focuses on the character of Lawrence Shannon, a priest who has been locked out of his church after having a nervous breakdown. Shannon is working as a tour guide for a second-rate tour company in Mexico and struggling with his anxiety and universal questions about life and God.
“One of the major things that the play is about is what is God,” Dooley said.
It’s also about people.
“It’s just so incredibly human,” Dooley said, explaining that the characters are complex and lifelike and, like everyone, find ways to cope with harsh realities.
“We all find ways to cope,” Dooley said. “Everybody has found where they need to cut a corner to get through the day.”
“It shows how people deal with things very differently in real life,” Urbano said.
Erik Schelter of St. Paul, who portrays Shannon, also sees relationships as a focus of the play.
“It’s about how people screw up relationships … by miscommunication,” he said.
With its deep subject matter and complex characters, the play presents actors at Century with many obstacles.
For Schelter, playing Shannon has proved especially challenging, because the character behaves in a bipolar manner.
“He’s very emotionally all over the place,” Schelter said. “The difficulty is switching from moment to moment without hesitation.”
After a full performance, Schelter is exhausted.
“It’s just really taxing on your emotions and your nerves,” he said.
Even the comedic characters like Fahrenkopf aren’t easy to portray.
“The biggest challenge that I found was the physical part of the comedy,” Urbano said. “You don’t realize how much energy it takes to laugh on stage for five minutes.”
In addition to difficult roles, “Night of the Iguana” presents technical challenges — during the play it rains on stage.
Dooley, who has directed four other plays at Century, said scene designer Will Slayden constantly pushes himself. So when Dooley asked whether there should be a simple sound effect to indicate a storm or an actual downpour of water, he knew what the answer would be: Use water.
“It’s a cool effect,” Dooley said.
With its unique stage design, its historical point of view and its exploration of spirituality and faith, Dooley believes the show will appeal to a wide range of audiences. He said it even has a love story, which he describes as the story of Romeo and Juliet if they’d met 20 years later after they’d become jaded.
“It has a love story, and there’s a lot of humor in it,” Dooley said. “While it deals with large questions, it does so in a way that’s quite humorous.”
The college advises parents that the play is appropriate for a “PG-13” audience.
It opens Friday, Oct. 18, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 27 in the theater at Century College’s west campus. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Sundays, and the production runs approximately an hour and 45 minutes. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $5 for seniors. Children age 17 and younger get in free.
Tickets are available in the theater lobby an hour before each show or by calling 651-478-2623.
Century College is at 3300 Century Ave. N., White Bear Lake.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]