Over the course of several years Mike Harkins has garnered a reputation for being one of the best sound designers in the business. Due to a lack of a sound design category, a Big Easy Award to acknowledge his contributions to a variety of companies for such a significant period was given to him just a few years back.
Curiously, though, as his reputation as a superlative sound designer was established, his prowess as an actor on the boards also became manifest. Superb supporting roles in "The Weir," "33 Variations" and "Pride and Prejudice" have put Harkins in position to be considered for leading man roles. His role in "The Night of the Iguana" as The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, the confused, defrocked Episcopal priest who questions the existence of God and who takes advantage of inexperienced, young women sexually, might be his greatest role on stage.
Tennessee Williams' depiction of the downward spiral of a self-loathing wreck of a man is the focus of "The Night of the Iguana." Knowing he needs to maintain his senses as the last vestige of his feeling of self-worth - that of a tour operator in Mexico - is about to implode, he avoids strong drink, despite the fact that everyone at the remote inn he has brought the tour to are offered complimentary rum cocos. Yet, there is not enough drink in the world to remove the taste of self-hate and disgust he has in himself.
The relationship between Shannon and Hannah Jelkes, a New England spinster traveling with her aged grandfather Nonno during the summer of 1940 is at the heart of the play. Aimée Hayes, who scored recently in "Pride and Prejudice" and last year as Blanche Dubois in "A Streetcar Named Desire," has no problem in playing the roles of interesting refined women. As Williams wrote her, Jelkes is a resourceful 40s-something virgin and flim-flam artist, who has yet to become physically intimate with a man. Yet, she recognizes in Shannon the fact he is undergoing a nervous breakdown and is probably suicidal and intervenes on his behalf.
Troi Bechet plays the the very recently widowed innkeeper, Maxine Faulk. She also has her designs on Shannon, but hers is seen more as a convenient liaison rather than a respectful relationship. Faulk recognizes Jelkes for the manipulative and wily threat that she is to her having Shannon all to herself.
Bob Edes, Jr. is again a scene stealer in his role as Nonno, the 97-year-old poet and constant companion to his granddaughter, whom he has raised and taken on the road since her parents' death in an automobile accident three decades prior. It is his influence and her absolute dedication to him that has resulted in her sexless, unsatisfying life.
Shannon stands accused again of statutory rape of Charlotte Goodall (Tiffany Wolf), an almost 17-year-old he has conducted on his own private tour. Judith Fellowes, played by Tracey Collins, has had enough of this disreputable and dingy defrocked priest. Her calls to the tour company result in Jake Latta (Matt Standley) being dispatched to dislodge the key to the tour bus Shannon has absconded with. It is a task he does with sadistic joy, pummeling Shannon while tossing the key to the stuttering busdriver Hank, played by Jordan Kaplan.
A group of touring Germans, who are seen as hooligan Nazi toughs,. are played by Andrew Farrier, Rebecca Hollingsworth, Casey Hendershot and Rachel Whitman Groves.
Other cast characters who put in appearances throughout the play are Kyle Woods and Josh Smith, portraying Pedro and Pancho, respecitvely, native boys, who make fun of this improbable group.
While Phil Karnell makes at least one directorial choice that is the equivalent of theatrical overkill, this Southern Repertory production of Williams' "The Night of the Iguana" is fairly close to the vision the playwright had intended. It does run long, but the acting by Harkins and Hayes makes it well worth seeing, especially in Act II, when Shannon's character is literally at the end of his rope in a hammock.
"The Night of the Iguana" opens tonight and plays through April 6 at Art Klub, 527 Elysian Fields Avenue. Tickets are available now at 504-522-6545 or by clicking here.