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EntertainmentLong IslandTheater

A dark and steamy 'Night' in Bellport

Community theaters, with their volunteer casts and crew, rarely venture into such daunting terrain as Tennessee Williams' expositions on human frailty. But Playcrafters opens its 53rd year with a brave, if slimmed-down, adaptation of the last great play in the Williams canon, "The Night of the Iguana."

Director George Loizides brings tropical heat to the winter stage of Bellport Community Center, visual-aided by his splendidly dilapidated set representing a fleabag resort hotel on Mexico's Costa Verde.

In this 1961 scorcher, the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon has delivered to this cheap outpost a tour group of church women in full insurrection. The proprietor recently died, leaving his widow in charge. Maxine says they hadn't slept together in 10 years, but it's only been 10 minutes since she jumped out of bed with her Mexican bellhop. She can't keep her hands off Shannon, but he's beset by raging females.

Shannon has statutorily raped a 16-year-old on his tour. Although he denies being defrocked, Shannon was locked out of his church years earlier for a similar transgression, exacerbated by a heretical sermon in which he called God a "senile delinquent."

Since then, he's worked as a "man of God" tour guide to "God's country."

While the tour women refuse to leave the bus, Shannon is joined at the hotel by an itinerant nonagenarian poet and his sketch-artist granddaughter, Hannah. They survive on tips from tourists.

Phil Eberhardt as the Rev. Shannon cuts a suitably compromised figure as a fallen man of cloth. That he would seduce young girls seems a greater sin than when such a Lothario as Richard Burton violated virtue in the 1964 film. Mary-Alyce Vienneau as Maxine conveys such slutty desperation for affection that we can forgive her flubbing a few lines. It adds to Maxine's semi-articulate authenticity. Still, her rope restraints on Shannon, and his escape from them, are cartoonishly implausible.

Bob Kaplan as the grandfather writing his last poem might carry it off better without the Colonel Sanders look. Jane Maushay as the tourist ladies' incensed leader should flaunt her piety with emasculating fury instead of mere disdain. Meanwhile, Kathryn Lerner is just shrill enough as the teen angel Shannon has defiled.

But what saves this "Iguana" is Claire Parrella-Curran's "female Buddha" Hannah, who, with her unapologetic faith-and-hustle conundrum, teaches Shannon that he can still save some poor soul -- even if it's only a lizard tied up under the porch.

WHAT "The Night of the Iguana," by Tennessee Williams

WHEN | WHERE 8 tonight and tomorrow night, Bellport Community Center, 4 Bell St., Bellport

INFO $18, $15 seniors and students; bellport-playcrafters.com, 631-748-7863

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