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

Anne Collin

OnStage Contributing Critic

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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

Second Opinion Review: ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater

Tara Kennedy

I know what you’re thinking. ENRON. The Play. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. What could be more boring than a play about the epic collapse of a corporate entity? Right?

Wrong!

Nothing encapsulates hubris and corporate greed better than the story of Enron, the infamous, defunct energy corporation based in Houston, Texas. In Lucy Prebble’s play, we learn about Enron’s innovative twist on what can be traded as a commodity in the market. We also learn about its “Russian doll” approach on keeping the company’s stock value high, which led to its inevitable collapse.

And you know what? We understand it! For the first time, I actually understood what Enron did and why people went to prison and others lost their livelihoods. 

The masterminds behind this black box scheme are Enron’s president, Jeffrey Skilling (Johnson Flucker) and CFO Andy Fastow (Nathan Rumney), supported (in deliberate ignorance) by chairman of the board, Kenneth Lay (Jim Bryne, Jr.). In direct competition with this new model is vice president, Claudia Rowe (Rebecca Meakin), who still believes in creating tangible commodities like power plants, while using her feminine wiles and smarts to stay in the rat race.  She is also Prebble’s own fictional concoction; a conglomerate of women who worked at high levels in the corporation.

As the director explains in her Director’s Notes in the program, this play is about people and the primary actors bring these characters to life. Nathan Rumney is wonderful as the unctuous Andy, who starts out as a somewhat hapless corporate misfit and soon rises to become the CFO Raptor Master (yep, there really are dinosaurs) behind the scenes of the Enron black box. Jim Bryne, Jr. is perfect as good-old-boy Kenneth Lay, who is happiest when he is schmoozing politicians into loosening regulations to Enron’s benefit. Rebecca Meakin played one of the most powerful women in 1990s business with confidence and finesse with a wardrobe that would’ve made Brenda Walsh jealous (thanks to costume designer, Mary Roane).

The focus of the play is on the rise and fall of Jeffrey Skilling, and Johnson Flucker portrays “the smartest man in the room” brilliantly. To depict a corporate monster as a multi-dimensional man with any sympathy takes tremendous skill and Flucker nails it. He is a zealous Edward Hermann, creating new commodities, and taking out his competition with a cool assurance and ease. One of his most chillingly callous lines is in reference to the California electricity crisis: “What’s the difference between the Titanic and the state of California? When the Titanic went down, her lights stayed on.” Yet, in his conversations with his daughter, you see his emotional vulnerability. When he answers her string of “Why?” questions (an allusion to Enron’s own commercial campaign), he tells her it is ultimately out of love for her, and you believe him. All the while, she happily blows soap bubbles toward him that quickly burst while rising into the air. Even in the end, as he dons his orange jumpsuit saying he was in prison because people failed him and didn’t believe enough, you feel sorry for him in his disillusionment.

The 12-person Ensemble in this production make up its steel backbone; without them, you wouldn’t have some of the show’s best elements of humor (the Lehman Brothers scene is hilarious) and humanity (powerful moments from Mary Roane and Ryan Wantroba who lost everything because of Enron). The entire ensemble perform complicated choreography to demonstrate everything from the Enron-induced chaos resulting from the deregulation of electricity to the systemic firing of Enron employees.  They made the plot fly smoothly and deserve as much kudos as the main characters.     

Technically, this show is incredibly complicated: multimedia on top of a LOT of sound and lighting cues. The movement of the plot relies on these cues to be correct. On opening night, I think I may have spotted one or two technical errors and that speaks volumes to the cohesiveness of the entire production team; that is a rare bird in community theater. Emily Trudeau’s direction should not be overlooked, as this is an ambitious show to put on at any theater. At a running time of nearly three hours, this show did not feel like it at all. The momentum of the story moved with alacrity from scene to scene effortlessly, and that is a credit to Trudeau and her hard-working team. 

What is so great about this production is that it strikes a wonderful harmonious blend: a riveting lesson in the dangers of creative free market economics combined with strong performances, smart direction, and uproarious humor. It is off-the-wall, on-the-ball, not-to-be-missed theatre. Playing Friday and Saturday evenings through August 8th.  Special Pay-What-You-Can Performance on July 24th. 

Review: 'Enron' at Hole in the Wall Theater

Anthony J. Piccione

Looking back on the 1990s, many people tend to remember it as a time of technological innovation and relative prosperity. In recent years, some people have even begun referring to it as “the last great decade”. However, this view of the 90s overlooks one of the less positive – as well as one of the most consequential – events to have occurred in this decade: the financial scandal at Enron that proved to be one of the most controversial financial scandals in American history, and ultimately led to the company’s downfall in the early 2000s. In 2009, playwright Lucy Prebble took it upon herself to bring this story to the stage in what may be one of the boldest and most underrated plays of the past decade. Luckily, Connecticut theatergoers now have an opportunity to see this play for themselves.

This weekend marks the Connecticut premiere of this powerful political drama, as Hole in the Wall Theater opens its production of the show this weekend as the finale to its 2014-2015 season. The show is directed by Emily Trudeau(2015 OnStage Critics Award for Best Actress), whose vision and passion for the play shines clearly from the beginning to end of the production. In terms of casting, blocking, visuals and sound effects, this production does an excellent job at retelling the shady events of just a few years ago that occurred at this company. The various elements of the production are put to great use, as they provide both a nice dose of nostalgia for the past, as well as sobering moments that serve as a cautionary tale for those in similar situations today in America. No production could possibly do a better job at using these elements to bring a play such as this to life than this one.

From L to R - Delaney Wilbur, Nathan Rumney, Ryan Wantroba and Johnson Flucker in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

From L to R - Delaney Wilbur, Nathan Rumney, Ryan Wantroba and Johnson Flucker in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

The usage of various technical elements in this show proves to be quite impressive, especially given the heavy amount of tech that a show such as this demands. The sets – built to look like an Enron building and office – are very well-designed, and help make the show more visually impressive. The costumes of the characters are another impressive feature, with some helping to make people look exactly like the real-life people that they portray and others – notably the dinosaur masks used later in the show – helping to add an amusing bit of comic relief to an otherwise serious political drama. Perhaps the most notable technical highlight in the show is the excellent usage of video projections, which are used to set the tone and atmosphere for the production with not just old clips of news reports and Enron commercials, but also to invoke memories of notable historical and cultural events from the time period in which the play takes place. These include – but are not limited to – the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the controversial election of George W. Bush in 2000, and even a trio of women doing the Macarena. (For all the kids out there reading this, the Macarena was pretty much the Harlem Shake/Gangnam Style of the 90s.) All in all, the technical aspects of the show do a very fine job at taking the audience back to the 90s and into the dark depths of the corporate world in which the play takes place.

Of course, the most noteworthy aspect of this production is the cast that brings the show to life. The show features over a dozen talented local actors who bring to life many of the central individuals involved in the Enron scandal. In the lead role is Johnson Flucker, who portrays the corrupt CEO Jeff Skilling. Mr. Flucker turns in an excellent performance that brilliantly shows Skilling to be both the greedy crook and the highly-complicated human being that he is. Portraying the role of Andy Fastow is Nathan Rumney, whose performance proves to be both highly compelling and villainous. Jim Byrne Jr. does a splendid job portraying the role of Ken Lay, while Rebecca Meakin turns in a solid performance as Jeff’s favorite co-worker Claudia Rowe. Rounding out the rest of the cast is Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney Wilbur.Rebecca Meakin, Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Johnson Flucker, Nathan Rumney, Jim Byrne , Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney WilburRebecca Meakin, Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Johnson Flucker, Nathan Rumney, Jim Byrne , Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney WilburRebecca Meakin, Mary Roane, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Wantroba, Johnson Flucker, Nathan Rumney, Jim Byrne , Stephanie Chernoff, Steve Azzaro, Luca Gianelli, Enrico DelGiacomo, Myla Gianelli, Christina Gianelli, Neve Stanziale, Paul Keuhn, Doug McCarthy, Charlie Williams & Delaney Wilbur. 

Kristen Bennett, Ryan Thomas, Michael Vernon Davis and Ryan Wantroba in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

Kristen Bennett, Ryan Thomas, Michael Vernon Davis and Ryan Wantroba in ENRON at Hole in the Wall Theater - July 2015

Overall, this production proves to be emotionally powerful, intellectually stimulating and one of the boldest productions that I’ve seen from a community theatre group here in Connecticut. Certainly worth watching for anyone who enjoys a rare drama that is not only entertaining, but also tackles major political and economic issues that are still relevant today in 2015. The show has a wonderful cast and a great story to tell, and is highly recommended for anyone who loves great, thought-provoking theatre that leaves you talking after the show ends.

Enron runs at Hole in the Wall Theater from July 17th to August 8th. For more information, please visit www.hitw.org.

Review ~ 'Through A Glass Darkly' at Hole in the Wall Theater

by Nancy Sasso Janis, OnStage Critic

Hole in the Wall Theater is presenting Ingmar Bergman's 'Through A Glass Darkly' in its New England premiere. The play runs at the New Britain theater through February 8.

Matty Skwiot is the director of this play that is an adaptation by Jenny Worton of the film of the same name. Mr. Skwiot wondered how a film that he loved would translate to the stage and he knew that he had to direct it. His own mother's battle with manic depression made him especially interested and in order to take advantage on an opportunity to raise awareness of mental illness,

he took great pains to execute this psychological family drama as effectively as he could.

He dedicates the production to the memory of his mother Pauline.

The action of 'Through A Glass Darkly' takes place on an island in 24 hour period. A young woman named Karin, who has recently been released from a mental hospital, is spending her vacation with her husband Martin, a doctor, her father David, a writer just back from Switzerland, and her teenaged brother. Karin is suffering from hallucinations and hysteria and ultimately thinks she thinks she is visited by God. It is all very intense. The title is supposed to refer to the characters mirroring each other, a motif that I did not catch in this play.

Describing himself in his notes as a minimalist director, he decided to go with stark staging that would reflect the main character's "chaotic state of mind." There are no walls around the set that he designed and all the props and set dressing are visible on stage at all times, "with the actors continually present, making costume changes behind screens." There is one important freestanding wall with wallpaper and a visible crack that plays into the madness; mix in the evocative lighting by Johnny Peifer and some incidental but loud violin music and

it was all most effective.

First time HITW producer Kelly DiMauro describes this cast as seeming to be born to play their exceedingly complex roles. I would agree that these are wonderfully intense characters and that the four very talented actors that play them were riveting to watch.

Emily Nyerick, an alum of St. Paul Catholic HS performing arts department and currently studying nursing at UCONN, was simply amazing in the role of Karin. The audience can see on her face every step that she makes in her descent back into her mental illness. At one point her acting had shades of the always marvelous Kristen Jacobson. Kudos to this young actress on her stellar performance.

James Hyland, who has studied at the National Shakespeare Co in NY and makes his HITW debut, showed his strong acting chops in the role of Karin's distant father David.

Thomas Bryda, who has worked both on and off-Broadway, was also strong in the role of her younger brother, here called Maxi. Tristan Cole makes his debut at this wonderful little theater to play the role of Karin's loving husband and gave a heartfelt performance.

My one criticism of the casting is that the ages seemed a little off, but the performances of the talented actors clearly outweighed the mismatch. This is not a drama for the faint of heart, but I enjoyed watching it unfold.

Coming up next at Hole in the Wall is their eighth annual Ceildh featuring the Rude Mechanicals on Feb. 28, followed by 'Fat Men in Skirts' by Nicky Silver opening in late March. Check their website hitw.org for details.