Night of the Near-Miss

It's finally happened. Joseph Kremer has at last appeared in a role that he's not able to make his own. Kremer, who arrived seemingly out of nowhere a couple of seasons ago, has tackled — and excelled at! — roles as diverse as a sleazy French aristocrat in Les Liaisons Dangereuses; a confused gay soldier in Valhalla; and a guileless pro baseballer in Take Me Out. He was even convincing as a singing, dancing wire whisk in a production of Beauty and the Beast I saw last year.

But from the moment he appears onstage as the Reverend Lawrence Shannon in Nearly Naked Theatre's Night of the Iguana, Kremer stumbles and never regains his footing. His entire performance is played at the same manic speed for more than two hours, and, while it's exhausting to watch him flail and holler, it's never pleasurable.

Nearly Naked, a company known for presenting programs considered challenging and "risky," is paying tribute to Tennessee Williams' famous play, which was received with varying degrees of shock and outrage when it premièred on Broadway in 1961. But a current staging of Iguana, especially by a troupe that routinely staggers us, merely serves to show how provocative this play isn't. It's chockablock with Williams' gorgeously tortured dialogue and genius juxtaposition of characters, but there's little that's scandalous today about onstage talk of madness, masturbation, and May-December romances.

With this Iguana, artistic director Damon Dering has created some of the most astonishingly fake-looking wigs ever seen on a local stage. My personal favorite was the blond Adonis toupee worn by Che Lozano, one of Maxine's Mexican cabana boys, whenever he appeared in his other role of Wolfgang, a German guest at the hotel. But not even one of Iguana's obviously Dynel hairpieces could stop Teresa Ybarra from turning in a delightful performance as Judith Fellowes, the swaggering bulldagger who helps tip Shannon over the edge. Ybarra has been MIA from Phoenix stages recently, and it's a pleasure to find her again, harrumphing and hollering in her inimitable style.

Patti Davis Suarez is also beguiling as the infamous Maxine Faulk, the drunken and slutty proprietress of the Mexican resort hotel where the play takes place. Her nemesis, the snooty New England spinster Hannah Jelkes, is captured attractively by Andrea Dovner, whose many scenes with Kremer bristle with tension despite the fact that he plays his part in high dudgeon throughout. It didn't help that, on opening night, Kremer didn't appear to have yet memorized his many pages of dialogue, which further impeded his already flailing performance. It appears that the complex character of Larry Shannon is, at least for the moment, beyond the grasp of our talented Mr. Kremer, a fact that has impeded the overall success of this revival of an already difficult piece of theater.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela