EVEN MORE than most of Tennessee Williams' plays, "The Night of the Iguana" is soaked in sex and sloth and scandal. Set in a decaying Mexican coastal resort during World War II, its seamy realism is wrapped in poetry and peppered with Williams' nakedly bitchy observations.
But despite all these spicy ingredients and four "name" stars, the Broadway-bound revival now at Baltimore's Morris Mechanic Theater is as swollen and mushy as a mango left in the hot sun. What could have -- should have -- been an involving evening becomes an occasion for a three-hour siesta.
For this 1961 drama, Williams assembled another bunch of his unwholesome misfits at a rotting hotel run by Maxine, a recently widowed slattern. The Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon, a haunted, defrocked minister who shows up every now and then to break down, appears with a tor bus full of irate Baptist ladies. In wanders a penniless duo, Jonathan Coffin, at 97 "the world's oldest living poet," and his granddaughter Hannah, a fragile but shrewd spinster who lives off her "quick character sketches" of tourists. A family of rude German tourists parades noisily through every so often to gleefully announce that London is burning.
Williams sees ours as a cruel, indifferent world, even harsher if you're old, eccentric or ugly. And in this elephant's graveyard of a hotel, the playwright strips the flesh off his unfortunate characters. There may be little but neglect waiting for us, but Williams compassionately admits that there exist "broken gates between people," and if we can only find them we may find comfort, even if it's for just one night.
As the pathetic, inhibited Hannah, French film star Jeanne Moreau seems miscast, and she's swaddled in an oversized kimono that seems doubly out of place in Mexico. It's clear Moreau has a feel for the character. It's how it comes ot -- all broken English and odd emphasis -- that's the problem.
There's just no erotic chemistry between Moreau and Michael Moriarty's self-absorbed Shannon, and Moriarty's show-off delivery -- a rushed drawl, if you can imagine it -- rudely intrudes on Moreau's lines.
Two enjoyable performances emerge from the wreckage. Roy Dotrice is sweetly moving as the ancient poet struggling against time to complete his last poem. And Eileen Brennan is a raw pleasure as Maxine. Overripe and randy, draped with a pair of decorative native boys, Brennan lolls about in a boozy sprawl while everyone else gasses on.
Oliver Smith's set is a delightful caricature, with its tropical palette of pastels and vegetation, but Jack Mann's sound effects appear and disappear with a jarring suddenness. Arthur Sherman's lethargic, stagy direction makes time stand still. The play's disparate elements -- Shannon and Maxine, Hannah and Nonno, the Germans -- stand defiantly apart and never come together, and in this climate, Williams' fascinating play seems prolix and torpid.