Review: 'Still Life With Iris' at Hole in the Wall Theater

Anne Collin

OnStage Contributing Critic


NEW BRITAIN, CT - Still Life With Iris takes place in the magical land of Nocturno, a world of night where all the things you see during the day are created. The story centers around Iris, a little girl who happily lives in Nocturno with her mother. Nocturno’s residents perform tasks suited to their titles: Memory Mender, Leaf Monitor, and Flower Painter are a few of Nocturno’s inhabitants. Each are expected to save the very best of their creations for their rulers, the Goods, who live on the Island of the Great Goods. 

Photo: Hole in the Wall Theater

Photo: Hole in the Wall Theater

Iris (Peyton Stehle, a young lady whose delivery is earnest and believable) spends carefree time with her friends, Elmer and Hazel (adorable and precocious Ian Rothauser and Allison Coney). The adults gently guide the children through whimsical tasks (such as affixing the spots to ladybugs) and make sure to keep them on the straight and narrow. Roy Donnelly is an affable and kind Flower Painter, and Kelley Mountzoures shines in her role of Memory Mender. She perfectly captures the exasperated and yet loving nature of a woman who is tasked with ensuring that all residents of Nocturno keep their “past coats” intact; without them, they would lose all of their memories. 

Unfortunately for Iris, she is the best little girl in all of Nocturno, and so Mr. Matternot (Drew Brathwaite), the Goods’ henchman, is sent to fetch her and bring her to the Island of the Great Goods. In order to make this experience less painful, Mr. Matternot must take Iris’s and her mother’s past coats from them. Stephanie Layne’s emotionally nuanced portrayal of Iris’s mother is poignant and heartbreaking, and Drew Brathwaite is convincing as stoic and conflicted Mr. Matternot.

Once Iris arrives on the Island of Great Goods, we finally meet the spectacularly costumed (courtesy of Kate Bunce) and haughtily hilarious evil duo, Gretta and Grotto Good. Adam Cormier’s clueless and flappable Grotto and Mairin McKinley’s uppity, pretentious, and vaguely menacing Gretta are the perfect shallow foil to the genuinely loving residents of Nocturno. The Goods only want the very best of everything, but Iris finds this existence empty and longs for a place she can’t quite remember. Eventually, she escapes and finds new friends. Briana McGuckin is winsome and eloquent as Annabel Lee, and Neo Valentin is a sweet Mozart (age 11). Together, they set out to find their elusive home.

Anyone who knows director Tony Palmieri knows that creating a beautiful fantasy world is one of his strongest suits, and Iris does not disappoint. The breathtaking backdrop of a night sky surrounds you in Nocturno, complete with a glowing crescent moon and a cloud that moves across the sky. These and other wonders were designed by Tony Palmieri and built by Bill Arnold, with scenic design by Tony Palmieri and Stephanie Layne.

Still Life With Iris is a play intended for children. However, the adults in the audience will inevitably feel its subtext: we are nothing without our memories, which make up our “past coats;” the fabric of our lives. Without them, life is meaningless; with them in our hearts, nothing is truly ephemeral if it becomes intrinsic to us.

Still Life With Iris continues its run with pay-what-you-can night this Friday, April 1st. There are also performances on April 2, 3 (2 p.m. matinee), 8, 9, 10 (2 p.m. matinee), 15, and 16. All performances are at 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. With support from the Long Foundation, tickets for children 12 and under are free.

Hole in the Wall Theater is located at 116 Main Street in New Britain. Free parking is available in the Chestnut Street garage next to the new police station