#ThrowbackTheater Thursday: Theatre of Youth - Gusto

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#Throwback Theater Thursday: Theatre of Youth’s ‘Still Life With Iris’

For this week’s #Throwback Theater Thursday post, we look back at Theatre of Youth’s 2001 production of “Still Life With Iris.” If you have any suggestions for future #TBT posts, email them to me or leave a comment at the bottom of the post. Here’s Patricia Donovan’s rave review of the show, which starred Jamie Devinoff and featured backdrops based on paintings in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery:

If there were enough rating stars, I would sprinkle a dozen or so over the Theatre of Youth production of “Still Life With Iris,” Steven Dietz’s marvelous allegorical fantasy.

This multifaceted, haunting play is dark, glittering and full of places and mysterious symbols that are a delight to explore. It was the first for young audiences to receive the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New Plays Award and has delighted audiences throughout the country ever since.

And this production, certainly one of the best in TOY’s 30-year history, enhances the tale in its telling. Children and adults in the opening night audience sank sweetly into the visual and musical Neverland-Wonderland-Munchkinland created on stage by the theater’s design team and were swept into wondrous realms where they tangled with their own sense of who they are and why.

Meg Quinn offers solid direction of her excellent cast and an original vision of the play and its possibilities. Kenneth Shaw, TOY’s set and costume design is based on spectacular paintings by Dali, Miro, Delaunay, Stills and Kupka from the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. His is one -- many, actually -- of the best articulations of fantasy I’ve seen.

Brian Cavanagh’s lighting, emphasizing the mystical and fantastical elements of the tale, is top-of-the-line. So is Chester Popiolkow-ski’s original score, beautiful on its own and beautifully woven into the story. Add Mary McMahon’s hilarious wigs and you have splendid theater for any age and a labor of love for the technical designers, who clearly had a ball.

To simplify greatly, Jamie Devinoff plays Iris, a lovely, curious little girl swept from her homeland and carried off to a land of perfection run by a hilariously evil and stupid couple named “The Great Goods.” Tammy Hayes and Bill Schmidt play the Goods like a Mel Brooks’ take on Romania’s Ceausescus. What performances!

In Deitz’s allegory, one’s memory is worn as a unique and colorful coat -- a “PastCoat” -- that holds in its fabric, folds and buttons, all that you know of yourself and your life -- hope, joy, losses, pain. hope, joy, losses, pain. It is valuable beyond measure. Great care is taken in Iris’ homeland of Nocturno to maintain one’s PastCoat, to stitch it up when torn and to never, never, take it off. To do so would be to forget who you are and where you came from, to lose your past.

The story, however, is less simple than that. In Nocturno, everything you see in the day is made at night. It is populated by busy, funny, munchkin-like folk who paint the flowers, bottle the thunder, repair what needs stitching, lay out the fog and haul up the moon. They are enslaved, however, by the Great Goods, who require them to collect the “best” leaf, shoe, button, colors, etc., and forward them to their island home. Iris, you see, is the “best” little girl .

The players are excellent in each and every role, and, with the exception of the tiny, super-charged Devinoff, a fine actress, each plays several. Solid and warm performances by Colleen Gaughan (Mom/Miss Overlook) and Roger Keicher (Mr. Matternot/Thunder Bottler) anchor Iris’ past in wisps of memory. Hayes is a total hoot as the Leaf Monitor, Gretta Good and Captain Also. Bill Schmidt as the second Thunder Bottler, Third String and Grotto Good. Suzanne Fitzery (Annabelle Lee/Hazel) and Chris Young (Elmer/Mozart) play off one another like hyperactive siblings throughout the play. Mario Gullo (Flower Painter/Bolt Bender/Himtoo) and Timothy Patrick Finnegan (Memory Mender/Rain Maker/Ray) are most convincing as colorful and solid citizens of Nocturno.


“Still Live With Iris,” a spectacular production of an intelligent, dark and delightful play by Steven Dietz.

Rating: ****

Directed by Meg Quinn, starring Jamie Devinoff, Colleen Gaughan, Roger Keicher, Tammy Hayes, Timothy Patrick Finnegan, Mario Gullo, Chris Young, Suzanne Fitzery and Bill Schmidt.

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