The Night of the Iguana The Night of the Iguana in 1961 was Tennessee Williams's last real success on Broadway. Now Theatre Southwest mounts its own revival, with its intimate space successfully creating the feeling of a sleepy, slightly run-down hotel on the coast of Mexico, and into these premises strides Lisa Schofield as Maxine Faulk, recently widowed and the owner/manager of the hotel. Schofield creates an involving and grippingly authentic portrait of a woman rooted in reality and seeing things clearly, but lightened with charm and a sense of humor, anchoring the play. Tyrrell Woolbert portrays Hannah Jelkes, caregiver and granddaughter to the 97-year old poet Nonno, whose memory and mind are receding. Woolbert stamps the role with quiet authority, and in her description of Hannah's limited sexual experiences, Woolbert finds the majesty in truth-telling and the poetry in the tattered human soul. Less successful is Scott McWhirter as the Reverend Larry Shannon, disgraced minister reduced to a position as a tour guide, with a taste for the bottle and an eye for 16-year-old girls. Shannon enters as a man driven by demons, all twitchy and distraught, defeated, cowardly and panicky, an object of derision and contempt, leaving him nowhere to go for the rest of the play. McWhirter portrays Shannon without dignity or charm rather than as the intended chick magnet. John Stevens as Nonno creates an interesting and convincing portrait. The rest of the large cast is admirable in less prominent roles, and director Mimi Holloway keeps the pace flowing and has ingeniously solved the many production problems inherent in the script. A complex, dynamic play by a theatrical master is brought to exciting life by skilled actors, resulting in a fascinating evening filled with insights, power and moments of pure magic. Through May 4. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT

Tristan and Isolde Hail, Nina Stemme, goddess of opera! If you are, as I am, an unrepentant Wagnerite – or for that matter a lover of any exceptional operatic singing – there is reason for mighty celebration and a breathless run to Houston Grand Opera's Tristan und Isolde. You won't want to look at it, for director Christof Loy's production is misguided in conception and a dreary eyesore that drains all the fiery color out of the work, but just close your eyes and revel in the beauty of sound and depth of interpretation that Stemme instills as the star-crossed princess of Ireland. Any singer who can navigate through the heady waters of Richard Wagner and make it sound as easy as paddling a canoe across a calm lake is the rarest of the rare. Her voice, full and round, is strikingly clean from top to bottom. It rings with clarion purity, yet is always warm and pliant. No need to scoop to reach those Alpine summits Wagner throws in her path, she leaps from peak to peak with glee and pinpoint precision. In quieter passages, she caresses the musical line like an enthralled lover. To top it off, she's a consummate actress, alive in every scene, no matter what nonsense the director has her do. Since the century has just begun, I'm reticent to call her the "voice of the century," but I'm fairly certain Stemme is the voice of the decade. You can't have a complete Tristan and Isolde with only Isolde, no matter how radiantly sung. Sad to say, her Tristan, Canadian Ben Heppner, another international superstar and preeminent Wagner interpreter, is slogging through a rough patch lately. His voice, once trumpet bright, easily frays when pushed hard, and Wagner pushes hard. His gleaming heldentenor, still evident during softer scenes, is now arduously produced. With commanding technique and a pro's experience, he made it through Tristan's mad scene – one of opera's most demanding arias – and managed to resurrect past glory days. We hope Heppner overcomes these difficulties and resumes his rightful place in the Wagnerian pantheon. The other members of the cast are downright revelatory, strong and powerful – Mezzo Claudia Mahnke's velverty Brangäne, baritone Ryan McKinny's virile and riveting Kurwenal, bass Christof Fischesser's betrayed and shattered King Marke. Disregarding the demented stage pictures, maestro Patrick Summers paints a glorious panorama. With clarity and empathy, he evokes every wave of ecstasy, fury, languor, and remorse in Wagner's swirling soundscape. He connects with this score on a very deep level, driving it forward as if he were the opera's third lover. HGO's orchestra has never sounded more lush and shimmery. While lacking a full-blooded Tristan, HGO's blissful rendition of this operatic masterpiece is filled with more than enough vocal glories to compensate. Ms. Stemme, Maestro Summers, et al., conquer. Once you open your eyes, you'll be on your feet. For once, a truly deserved standing ovation. May 2 and 5. Houston Grand Opera, 501 Texas. 713-228-6763. - DLG

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