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THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

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If more proof is needed that this theatre company is a precious jewel in the City of Angels' crown, here it is. Simon Levy, dedicated director and devotee, together with a superb handpicked ensemble, gives us triple distilled Tennessee Williams at his most passionate, potent, and poetic. Eliminating unessentials—like the trampling horde of German tourists we don't miss—Levy scales the play to its essential elements of human loneliness and need.

Ugliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The iguana, descendant of dinosaurs, is an ugly little beast (except perhaps to other iguanas) best hidden in the underbrush, where we hear it rustling. The iguana—there's a live one here—is the play's mascot and a metaphor for its characters' dilemmas.

Upon her entrance, Karen Kondazian captures our attention and imagination as archetypal earth goddess Maxine, with her wild spill of black hair, bountiful bosom spilling out of her blouse, roguish smile, and eyes of deviltry. The lusty lady is a tramp who keeps a couple of "Mexican concubines" on hand for bawdy romps; Alex Lozona and Jorge Luiz, with nothing to say, are decorative, nimble, and nice to have around.

It's Shannon whom Maxine wants to snare and tether like the wild iguana. Well, join the club, girl. Handsome Larry Poindexter's sexy Shannon is catnip to the feline female species. Strong drink and rebellious spirit have caused Shannon's downfall. Ever torn between heaven and hell, when Hannah comes along in the lovely blonde person of Jacqueline Schultz, he's powerfully drawn to heaven. As Schultz plays her so perfectly, Hannah is a lady and a living saint. She and Shannon could make beautiful music together, but this is Tennessee Williams, and it's not going to happen. In her exquisitely delivered second-act monologue Schultz approaches actor's epiphany.

Hannah tends her frail and gentle 97-year-old grandfather, Nonno, the world's oldest living, practicing poet, with devoted care. Jay Gerber is a lovably joyous nonagenarian. At the opposite end of the personality spectrum is Irene Roseen as the rock-ribbed chaperone of Texas teenagers. Roseen, with one of the most terrific actor's voices on record, is hell on wheels and a holy terror. Amy Lucas as a predatory under-age sex kitten hungry for Shannon, and Chet Grissom and Michael Edwin as bumpkins anxious to replace Shannon as tour guide, complete the fine ensemble cast.

We still miss design maven Robert W. Zentis at times like this, but John Patrick has taken over admirably with his atmospheric jungle-encroached Costa Verde, faded blue shutters of its facade slightly raddled, giant tree trunk threatening to take over. Kathi O'Donohue is lighting designer—what more need be said? Roseate, lilac-hued, tawny gold, hazy dusky, poetic as the script itself. Marty Pistone's fight direction, Jeanne Reith's costumes, and eileen's props uphold the Fountain's tradition of excellence, and Sara Bader's award-worthy sound deserves special mention.

Iguana is a thrilling addition to the Fountain's long list of triumphs. Tennessee Williams has never been more Tennessee Williams. He would have loved it.

"The Night of the Iguana," presented by and at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Jan. 26-Mar. 4. $22. (323) 663-1525.

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