The Night of the Iguana is a stageplay written by American author Tennessee Williams, based on Williams' 1948 short story. The play premiered on Broadway in 1961.
In 1940s Mexico, an ex-minister, Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, has been locked out of his church after characterizing the Occidental image of God as a "senile delinquent," during one of his sermons. Shannon is not de-frocked, but rather institutionalized for a "nervous breakdown."
Some time after his release, Rev. Shannon obtains employment as a tour guide for a second-rate travel agency. Shortly before the opening of the play, Shannon is accused of having committed a statutory rape of a sixteen-year old girl, named Charlotte Goodall, who is accompanying his current group of tourists.
As the curtain rises, Shannon is arriving with a group of women at a cheap hotel on the coast of Mexico that had been managed by his friends Fred and Maxine. The former has recently died, and Maxine Faulk has assumed sole responsibility for managing the establishment.
Shannon, in the middle of another nervous breakdown, tries to manage not only his tour party, who have turned against him for entering into sexual relations with the minor, but also Maxine, who is interested in him for purely carnal reasons. Adding to this chaotic scenario, a strangely virginal spinster, Hannah Jelkes, appears with her moribund grandfather, Nonno, who, despite his severe "decrepitude", is in the midst of composing his last poem.
Hannah, who barely scrapes by as traveling painter and sketch artist, soon finds herself at the end of her rope, that is to say, at Maxine's mercy. Shannon, who wields considerable influence over Maxine, offers Hannah shelter for the night. The play's main axis is the development of the deeply human bond between Hannah and Shannon.
Like the Iguana, captured and tied to a pole by the Mexicans in the play, they have come to the end of their rope. This metaphor is intensified when Shannon tears at his golden cross on his neck, lacerating himself, as if to free himself from its constraints.
Minor characters in the play include: a), a group of German tourists whose Nazi marching songs paradoxically function to lighten the heavier themes of the play, and yet cast us deeper into human suffering as they remind us of the horrors of World War II, b) the Mexican "boys" Maxine employs to help run the hotel who comically ignore her laconic commands, and c) Judith Fellowes, the "butch" vocal teacher charged with Charlotte's care during the trip. The latter is one of Williams few overtly lesbian characters (see A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur by Williams, in which a love triangle among three women is the play's sole interest).