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At first glance, D.H. Lawrence and Tennessee Williams may not seem like two probable writers to present in rep: one serves up cold drinks, the other, hot desires. Yet the Washington Shakespeare Company has planted the two side-by-side in a pairing that intimately examines the dark complexity of human wants and needs.
In Lawrence’s once-controversial Lady Chatterly’s Lover, director John Vreeke and co-adaptor Mary Machala follow the distinctly English trend of moving a novel from page to stage through active narration and the original lyrical language of Lawrence’s imagination. And like most fervent littÃ©rateurs who cling to their beloved text, they have committed the cardinal sin of adaptation: telling us instead of showing us.
The first fifteen minutes of verbiage is tedious and tiring. But things perk up once Lord Chatterley (Jim Jorgensen) suggests his wife, Constance, (Michelle Shupe) take on a lover for childbirth — thus sparking her sensuous, erotic affair with gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (Hugh T. Owen). What begins as a stiff, oppressive tale soon becomes a heated, lustful journey through Lady Chatterley’s carnal passions and surprising discovery of her powerful sexuality.
Fueled by Vreeke’s signature electric staging, Chatterley‘s cast is as collectively strong as its material. Shupe is a playful, childlike Constance, while Jorgensen provides the most savage performance of the night as a man forced to confront the reality of his wife’s disgraceful affair.
Few people produce Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana, and fewer still realize that Williams was a steadfast fan of Lawrence’s work. Little wonder then why several of his characters — thorny American loners who have nothing to lose — parallel the uncompromising but misguided characters of Lawrence’s finest works.
In Iguana, we meet T. Lawrence Shannon (Christopher Henley), a defrocked minister who has taken a job as an indignant tour guide to a bus full of Texan school girls in the tropical jungles of Mexico. Accused of sexual relations with one of the young women, Shannon feebly attempts to fend off the allegations by seeking refuge in a small hotel operated by a recently-widowed friend, Maxine (Delia Taylor). There he must contend with the persecution of tour ringleader Judith (Annie Houston), the watchful, accusatory and lustful eye of Maxine, and his unsettling attraction to the conniving Hannah (Cam Magee).
Under H. Lee Gable’s magical, non-evasive direction, Iguana‘s physical and mystical spirit transcends the seedy, moral decay of its two “fantastic, cool ” hustlers to become a potent tale about salvation and second chances. Henley’s Shannon is a mercurial anti-hero with a drawl that can be interpreted just as much Southern as drunken. Magee presents Hannah with such elegance and ingenuity that we doubt at first that Shannon can be right about his suspicious instinct. But it is Magee’s natural instinct for timing and drama that produces such lovely, whimsical chemistry between the two as she offers Shannon her bit of tea and sympathy.
While exploring the cavernous depths of human nature and sexy salvation, Williams develops tunnel vision, extending his scenes and halting all momentum. As his scripted poetry drags on and the evening becomes dreadfully long, we realize the iguana simply must be cut loose. Alas, perhaps the reason it is rarely produced.