Something is off about ART's Night of the Iguana. The actors seem to be talking into a void, rather than each other. They come across as utterly self-centered, and it's hard to tell if that aspect of the production is intentional or not.

It wouldn't be hard to believe it was intentional. After all, Tennessee Williams is well known for the very personal internal struggles he gives his characters. His plays are not about communities working together, but rather the alienation that individuals inflict on themselves, even in the face of a community that could potentially support them.

In Iguana, that flood is most evident in the character of T. Lawrence Shannon (Tim True), a tour guide who carts loads of Americans around Mexico in a bus. A spiritually and sexually tormented man, Shannon was once on the track to becoming a clergyman, but fell prey to a party-hard lifestyle that included an affinity for young women. Shannon has fallen into the habit of bringing his tour groups by the Costa Verde Hotel, a dilapidated old shack on the west coast of Mexico. Shannon probably likes this place because it is so isolated, but he also seems to have a mysterious history with the hotel's proprietor, Maxine Faulk (Luisa Sermol).

The fun begins when another woman, Hanna Jelkes (Susan Coromel), arrives at the hotel with her ancient grandfather, Nonno (Michael Berkson). Hannah possesses a combination of innocence and well-traveled wisdom that is at once endearing, penetrating, and romantic. She quickly digs out the religious and sexual angst buried within Shannon, sparking an internal crisis within him, and a bout of jealous rage from Maxine.

Clearly, this is a premise rife with dramatic and steamy potential, and yet ART's production is fairly detached, almost cold. The production values are top-notch, with a lush, tropical set that has been specifically designed around the first act's stormy climax, in which Shannon finally confronts his demons in the middle of a torrential downpour. But all the bells and whistles in the world can't save a situation devoid of human chemistry. The sexual tension between True and Coromel, which should be burning hot, is instead basically nonexistent.

In the end, Iguana is both light and humorless. This is not a good thing. It means the production not only fails to find the sultry sense of desperation that makes Williams' play so memorable, but it doesn't have any fun with the search. JUSTIN SANDERS

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