Tim Daly keeps trying to kick his theater habit. “I don’t seem to be able to do it,” he says, laughing, when considering his role in La Femme Theatre Productions’s mounting of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana, opening December 17th at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
Though he is most well-known for his screen work (Wings, Madam Secretary), Daly is a veteran of the stage, and has appeared both on and off-Broadway (The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, Downstairs). In the new production of Iguana, directed by Emily Mann, Daly plays Rev. Shannon, a defrocked clergyman who finds himself in the throes of a stormy night at a hotel in Acapulco amid a world war. He takes on the challenging piece opposite Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lea DeLaria, and Austin Pendleton, among others. Daly spoke with TheaterMania about Iguana, what drew him to the role, and his work with the Creative Coalition.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What was it about The Night of the Iguana that appealed to you?
I was mostly familiar with the movie which I saw again and did not like. Then I read the play and I thought, My God, this is terrifying, enormous, and so moving. Tennessee Williams is really crafty and so human. I thought of it as a challenge because it scared me, which I felt was probably a good thing at this stage in my career. It’s interesting to run across a play that has this much stagecraft. Williams is great about segueing between scenes and acts without bringing the lights down and to me that feels like a dying art. It’s lovely to be able to see someone who has that kind of skill.
Have you worked on other Tennessee Williams pieces in the past?
A million years ago I did The Glass Menagerie with Amy Irving. I played the Gentleman Caller. If I do say so, I was really good in it. I usually loathe bragging about myself, but that part is all gravy. It’s really fun.
What else do you most appreciate about Williams’s writing, as an actor?
I think that he is able to tap into the beauty, the horror, the darkness, and the joy of humanity. His characters are complex. They’re not all good and not all bad, they have these problems and struggles, and it’s the stuff that humanity is made of. He is able to create these lives in a really identifiable way.
[The Night of the Iguana is] about people who are literally and figuratively, by the end of the play, at the end of their ropes. It’s their last chance to find a way to survive their difficult lives. They all find a way to do it-not in a painless way-but they find their way through. It’s oddly hopeful, but it also puts the characters through a lot of difficult things in order to find that ray of hope.
La Femme Theatre Productions is dedicated to telling stories about the female experience. What does that element bring to Emily Mann’s production?
Emily is really talented, insightful, and generous. I have a great deal of trust in her. I think Shannon is the focal point of this play, but Williams always writes interesting and complex women, so I don’t think it’s beyond the scope of La Femme’s paradigm or ethos. The women’s parts in this are really fantastic, interesting, and varied. I’m hoping that audiences see the play through the lens of the setting of the play, which is 1940. In 2023 we’re much more sensitive to things, thank God, than people were post-World War II.
What have you been most surprised to learn about Reverend Shannon through rehearsals?
This play resonates with me profoundly. I feel really connected to this guy and his struggles. I think it’s a combination of my upbringing, my parents, my grandparents, and some of the struggles that I’ve had in my life and witnessed in my family. It rings really true and honest to me.
You’re celebrating 41 years of sobriety. Are there any aspects of that journey with which you can relate to your character?
Sure. There’s a darkness to being an addict and a desperation. Shannon struggles with all kinds of demons. If you have had demons and have struggled with them or continue to struggle with them, then this play is for you. There’s a wonderful saying: “Religion is for people afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for people who have already been there.” Shannon has been through hell. He, in an odd way, finds his spiritual self in this play.
What should people know about the Creative Coalition, the organization for which you serve as president?
We’re an arts advocacy organization. We believe artists who are prominent in the arts and entertainment community should inspire and educate audiences to rally around issues of public importance, especially arts education and public funding for arts. My goal for the organization is for it to go out of business! If our government properly funded the arts and arts education, then I could do something else. We’re woefully underfunded in this country in how we support arts, and the arts are always the first things that get removed from schools. We’ve got to fight for awareness and public funding. The arts are vitally important for healthy and interesting human beings.