Even before the lights dimmed for the show to begin, I could tell I had stepped into a reality more akin to that of Louis Carol’s world of Wonderland than that of Bellevue. A lilting voice told the audience that the show was about to begin before suddenly and loudly squawking to “turn off your cell phones!” contributing further to the already thick atmosphere of magical realism.
Nocturno is a world where the ladybugs’ spots must be adhered, the flowers painted, lightning shaped and wind taught to whistle and howl by its hardworking and diligent but cheerful denizens. It’s a world where one’s memory is held on the coat, and where the best of the workers’ creations must be sent off to the Great Goods (Jenn Weisner and Neil Wojewodzdki), a mysterious and ominous family that rules Nocturno from their island across the water.
The protagonist, Iris (played by Hannah Coleman), is deprived of her coat and her memory after her unique talent for finding things brings her quality to the attention of the Great Goods, who desire the best daughter for their “perfect” family. Retaining only a button from her coat, and with it a warm memory of a room from her home, she sets out with newfound friends Annabel Lee (Chelsea Moe) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Bill Kilpatrick) to find her past, her home, and her father.
Heavy with symbolism and allegory, “Still Life with Iris” gives a happy ending to an otherwise dystopian, almost Orwellian plot.Even after losing her memory, Iris maintains her defining ability to find what’s been lost, and in fact succeeds without her memory in finding her father, which she was unable to do before being deprived of her coat. In attempting to convey that Iris’ (and everyone else’s) identity lies nestled in her memory, the play contradicts itself by giving an all’s-well-that-ends-well conclusion.
I almost want to say that the playwright overreached in trying to give everything to all audiences, and perhaps missed achieving what could have become a play of the quality of the classics in the process. Even so, the play did its primary job remarkably well: it delivered in the entertainment department. Bill Kilpatrick, who played a young Mozart, was especially deserving of praise for his hilarious and convincing portrayal of a lost composer searching for his night-song (and a good cup of hot coco). Overall, the performance was vibrant, colorful, and immersive, even if a bit overdramatic during the opening scenes.
“Still Life with Iris” is one of over 30 original plays by Steven Dietz, widely considered to be one of the greatest playwrights alive today.