Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 28, 2010

The Night of the Iguana

Iguanaby Tennessee Williams

As you can perhaps gather from my unabashedly late-to-the-party posting, I’m embracing the ‘non-structured’ aspect of this group read! I actually didn’t feel that I could write about the book until I had also seen John Huston’s re-visioning of it. I felt that I needed to hear the words of the play spoken and see the emotions of the characters running amuck across their faces, before I could summon up a reaction to the work.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by the play. I find plays difficult to read in general, because I can never reach full submersion. I’m constantly jarred out of the experience by the stage directions, and often feel that the conversations are overly…dramatic…? Granted, my exploration of the format is limited, and I definitely find most plays compelling once they are staged.

The Night of the Iguana, with it’s exploration of human connection and the dark side of conflicted souls, was certainly interesting, but I didn’t connect to it. Even in it’s cinematic form, which I thought was excellently realized and brilliantly acted, I didn’t find myself being drawn in. I couldn’t bring myself to care about what happened to defrocked Rev. Shannon, or self-labeled New England spinster Hannah. I didn’t like Maxine at all in the play, although I do have to admit that the screen version of her, played by gorgeous Ava Gardner, was far more compelling. I was abundantly relieved that the horribly healthy German family were left out of the film entirely, but the Mexican boys with their incessant maracas were equally annoying!

There are some ideas in the play that in other forms have resonate with me, but I had such trouble staying focused on the play that I feel like I can not give them proper thought. From my quick scan through some of the other posts on the book, it is obvious that there is much to discuss, so I’ll trot around to those posts in the next few days and get in on it. I’m just having difficulty collecting my own thoughts!

I do very much like this bit of philosophy offered up by Hannah – the something to believe in that she’s discovered:

‘ “Broken gates between people so they can reach each other, even if it’s just for one night only.” ‘

And I do want to discuss the ending of the play compared to the ending of the movie, and what Shannon says about God playing God. I felt like Huston was being a little too tidy with his ending… Thoughts?

Thanks to Frances for picking this one. I’m glad to have my first Tennessee Williams under my belt, and in spite of the fact that I didn’t love this play, I think I’ll try some more in the future. I am very excited to continue this ‘non-structured’ journey with my fellow readers and bloggers. Next up, Richard’s first pick – Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec!


  1. It sounds like we had precisely the same reaction!

    • Yes, that seems to be the case. 🙂

  2. Three cheers for non-structured! 🙂

    Reading the responses of people who didn’t connect with the characters has me pondering why I do – food for thought, and something I hadn’t really considered, since I grew up with Williams in general & Iguana in particular. I think I just like their crazy. Maybe I like the atmosphere enough to put up with the characters. I don’t have any answers at the moment, but I do agree that the film versions of Williams plays tend to be overly neat with his typically dour, emotionally complex endings. And they also tend to neaten up his messy, not-very-sympathetic characters, which I definitely think is true of most of the characters in Iguana.

    Anyway, looking forward to the Perec! Started it last night (because I’m also reading something else long & I wanted to be sure to leave myself enough time) & I’m loving it so far. Yay!

    • Thank you! I felt strongly that Huston had cleaned up the characters, and I had your post about it in the back of my head while I was watching too, so it seemed even more obvious. Not that I disagree with his choice – and his version of the ending included elements of the play in a mixed up form. I do have to admit that I appreciated the complexity of the characters, even in their most unlikeable form, and I certainly appreciate that Williams wasn’t afraid to bring such characters to life. I’m still trying to figure out what it was that I DIDN’T like about it, since there are all kinds of elements that I appreciated. I’d hate to say it was just the format…I want to be better at reading than that! 🙂

  3. Update! Update! I finally got a hold of the movie, yay! But won’t be in my hand for a few weeks still. Still, am excited and will finally be able to contrast and compare. Looking forward to the much more likeable Maxine on film as I didn’t like her much in the play either.

    Although, sorry to hear the Germans have been left out because I thought them hilarious!

    I also struggled a bit about “getting into” this play because I wasn’t used to the theatricality of it as well, but it’s about not being used to reading plays in general, and nothing to do with Williams, I gathered, after much pondering. I really enjoyed it, though, even if I wasn’t completely enamoured. It was just a really fun experience for me and I want more of it.

    Incidentally, did you connect more with the short story? I thought I did at first, because I eased into it more smoothly. But in the end, the play stayed with me more and now I can definitely say for sure I liked the play more than the short story. In hindsight.

    • As I’m pondering it, I think my struggle was more with the format than the content too…! I have yet to read the short story. Now I’m really curious about what my reaction will be! 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you think of the movie.

  4. I was rather underwhelmed at first too until it picked up about 3/4 of the way through. I actually read three plays this month and my favorite was Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. I think it was because that one is more intellectual-oriented than character-driven. I feel that latter variety are probably harder to read because so much of the drama is tied into the acting.

    Don’t worry – I was late too. I did my post on Sunday!

    • I definitely think I need to read more plays. I hate being unfamiliar with a format to the extent that it effects my experience of the work…! And I LOVE the movie version of R & G are Dead, so I’d better try out that one soon.

  5. Non-structured is such a relief to me. The pressure lifts right off my shoulders when I say those words. Just love the suggestion of low expectations! 🙂

    Really thinking that maybe this is all about format for some people. I think it was Teresa that had some really perceptive things to say about the differences required of a play to make meaning convey well onstage. Or maybe the appeal for me lies in the fact that, like Emily, I just do crazy pretty willingly. Thanks for being a sport and hanging in there despite reservations.

    Perec bound!

    • I didn’t mind the craziness, so I’m thinking it’s definitely the format for me. I appreciate the appearance of a new challenge though!

  6. I’m surprised I did like this play, Sarah, because Shannon and Maxine were like the Adam and Eve of abrasive ho-hum! Not being a big drama reader myself, I can totally relate to your feeling of being distracted by the stage directions–but I actually found it interesting how complex they were at times. For whatever reason, that totally surprised me. Anyway, somewhat looking forward to the film version of Iguana sometime soon and very much looking forward to the Perec at the end of April (as if you had any doubts about that, ha ha). Cheers!

    • Yes, your response to this is so great! I love when I like something almost in spite of myself – it’s so mysterious when a piece grabs you like that. I’m very curious about what you’ll think of the movie!

  7. I have nothing wise to add to this lovely review, not having read the book, but I am hear to say, “I can’t wait to begin The Brothers Karamazov with you!!!” I’m so glad that you’re participating in the challenge, and it will be so great to hear your thoughts come Thursday next and the three after.

    • I’m equally eager to see what you think of it! 100 pages in, and I am staying pretty intrigued.

  8. […] A very decent visualization of the book, with a great cast. I’ve already discussed it a bit here and since I’m pressed for time, I’ll leave it at […]

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