When the curtain rises for act 1 of The Night of the Iguana, the audience sees the broad verandah of the rustic Costa Verde Hotel in the midst of a tropical jungle. The midday is clear and sultry. Down the hill on which the hotel is situated can be heard the excited voices of numerous women, and it is this disturbance that brings a stout, swarthy woman around the turn of the verandah and into the audience’s direct view. She looks down the hill a moment and suddenly recognizes one of the people, a man; she laughs and calls his name—Shannon. The woman is Maxine Faulk, she and her late husband Fred are old acquaintances of T. Lawrence Shannon. Having climbed the hill, Shannon tells Maxine that he had hoped to see and talk with Fred, because he feels emotionally unstable and Fred’s conversation was always helpful at such times.
Once an ordained Episcopal minister but expelled from the church for heresy and fornication, Shannon has been a tour guide for ten years, the last five with Blake Tours, and he is now guiding a busload of schoolteachers from Baptist Female College, Texas. Shannon’s immediate problem is that he has had sexual relations with the youngest of the women; the woman in charge of the group, Judith Fellowes, is outraged and intends to report him. His need for Fred’s companionship has prompted him to abandon the tour’s scheduled route and stops, and now he cannot persuade Fellowes to accept stopping for a time at Maxine’s hotel. Although he has in his pocket the ignition key for the bus, the women are refusing to get out of the vehicle—except for Fellowes, who soon storms the hill and demands to use the hotel telephone to call the headquarters of Blake Tours in Texas. While Fellowes is on the telephone, Maxine shaves Shannon’s face, tells him that he can have Fred’s room permanently, offers him Fred’s shoes and socks, suggests that he let the women leave without him, and makes it abundantly clear that she wants sexual favors from him. What she does not want is two more customers who arrive at the hotel—Hannah Jelkes and her grandfather, Jonathan Coffin, the two of them penniless, she a portraitist and he a ninety-seven-year-old poet in a wheelchair. Shannon convinces Maxine to take them in for at least this one night.
Act 2 opens upon the same day several hours later, near sunset. Maxine sets the tables on the verandah for dinner and informs Hannah that she must leave tomorrow. It becomes increasingly apparent throughout this second act that Maxine feels competitive with Hannah for Shannon’s attention. Clearly, Maxine wants to use Shannon’s alcoholism to weaken his resistance to taking her as his lover and settling at the hotel permanently. He consistently refuses the drinks she offers him, going so far at one point as to pour hers on the back of one of her young Mexican employees who has caught an iguana and is tying it to the verandah with a rope. Having announced to Maxine in the first act that this is his last tour and that he is going back into the clergy, Shannon hides in his room when the young schoolteacher with whom he had the affair seeks him in order to discuss marriage. Instead, she is caught by Fellowes and marched off to the section of the hotel where they are staying temporarily, and Shannon comes out onto the verandah, where Hannah is now alone. During the course of their private conversation, which extends over dinner, he expresses his admiration for her as “a lady, a real one and a great one,” tells her the cause of his expulsion from the church, and confesses the extent to which he is, as he says in act 1, “at the end of my rope.” Hannah responds to him empathically and tells him that she wishes she knew how to help him.
While act 2 ends with a fierce, tropical rainstorm into which Shannon extends both hands from the side of the verandah, the rain has stopped when act 3 opens several hours later. Shannon is now sitting alone at a table on the verandah, intensely...
(The entire section is 3,547 words.)