WHAT World premiere of “Year of the Iguana” by Claude Solnik
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 7, Studio Theatre, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
TICKETS $25; 631-226-8400, studiotheatreli.com
The good news is Tennessee Williams is writing a new play. The bad news? He reads it aloud.
“Year of the Iguana,” a promising play by Plainview author Claude Solnik and directed by David Dubin, is making its world premiere in an uneven production at Studio Theatre. While the title, referencing “Night of the Iguana,” may be a metaphor for Williams’ greatest fear — that he’d wind up in a psychiatric hospital like his beloved sister Rose. He was hospitalized for months a few years after the death of Frank Merlo, the love of his life aside from Rose. (The two are present in portraits hung over the set, flanked by Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a “Glass Menagerie” poster and their author.)
Solnik treats Williams’ life story as tortured inspiration for his first major success. Born Thomas Lanier Williams III, he adopted the name Tennessee for “The Glass Menagerie” in which Rose serves, as in several of his masterpieces, as a model for its central character, Laura, whose physical infirmity substitutes for his sister’s debilitating depression.
Young Tom, played by Edward Cress with a brooding restlessness, grows up with Rose in a family whose dysfunction is traced to their father’s alcoholism driven by their mother’s nagging. James Bradley and Lisa Meckes make a convincingly miserable pair. Yet we see in them a latent dignity that neither child appreciates.
Rosemary Kurtz is ironically cheerful as a mental ward nurse we meet in the opening vignette when Tennessee prefaces the flashback to his youth. But the star is Rose, portrayed by Nicole Intravia with alternating depression and denial as she imagines gentlemen callers, reflecting her diagnosis as a schizophrenic. Her blank stare and disheveled groomlessness following a lobotomy appear chillingly authentic.
Unfortunately, Intravia shares the scene with the mature Tennessee, played by Michael Harrison Carlin, who, one year after a staged reading at Studio, still isn’t off book. In the first scene, he’s said to be writing a new play — cover for Carlin’s unpreparedness. Bad enough when his character directly addresses the audience, worse in scenes with actors who know their lines. Reading from a script in hand, his performance is like a bad audition.
The play, freighted with melancholy — similar to many of Williams’ best-known works — is occasionally lyrical enough to be worthy of the master. This “Iguana” deserves better.