Lamar to present ‘Still Life With Iris’
In the land of Nocturno, someone teaches the wind to whistle, and memories don’t reside within people’s minds, but inside their “Past Coats.”
A still life is a picture of unmoving objects, but for Iris, it’s a consistent, oddly-familiar vision.
Lamar University’s Department of Theatre and Dance will present “Still Life With Iris,” by Steven Deitz, beginning April 6 and running through April 9 in the University Theatre.
Vidor-native Shelby Dryden plays Iris, an inquisitive little girl who forgets her past.
“Her curiosity leads to her discoveries, and Iris — she’s known as the finder,” Dryden said. “They wear these things called ‘Past Coats.’ In the show, it’s taken from her.”
The citizens of Nocturno literally have their memories sewn into their coats. Iris’ past is kept within a button from her coat.
“There’s a memory left in this button, and every time Iris holds it in her hand, she is able to see that memory and it is very much like a ‘still life’ painting,” Dryden said.
First time director Meredith Taylor, Liberty senior, has spent her theater career at Lamar as a technician. She said “Iris” gives a nod to adventures like “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
“It’s like the underdog compared to those stories,” Taylor said. “It’s maybe the one you don’t hear about as much, but it’s very special being a part of it — it’s a little lesser-known, but it’s brilliant.”
The production calls for more than 20 different character roles. Houston junior Sydney Haygood plays four.
“Just making them all different has been the biggest challenge for me,” she said. “Like, how do they walk? How do they talk? — How they carry themselves.”
Haygood said one role in particular stands out.
“Memory Mender is the Nocturno citizen that sews the coats,” she said. “Because without your coat, you don’t know who you are — you don’t know anything. Your coat is basically your identity.”
The play is categorized as Theatre for Young Audiences, meaning it is family-friendly.
“It’s just more light-hearted,” Taylor said. “I’ve done ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the past, and you know — everyone really knows what happens, and so it can be a little more intense, and it doesn’t necessarily leave you with a good feeling in the end. But, doing a play like this, where it’s happy and it’s silly and — it has its serious moments, but overall, you leave with a good feeling.”
“Iris” is Dryden’s first children’s show.
“I was really excited to tackle it, because getting to play a kid again is fun,” she said. “All of the imagination, all of the curiosity of a child — being able to portray that onstage, it’s just fun.
“Getting to bring that onstage is so much fun, because I haven’t been able to do that. I don’t feel like I’ve been able to really do that to the extent that I wanted to before. So it’s surprisingly easy.”
Iris encounters multiple colorful characters as she journeys to find her memories.
“It kind of has that Peter Pan-adventure feel,” Haygood said. “Like, ‘C’mon, this way!’ and they all run this way, and there’s these wacky characters and stuff. So it’s like this zany play, I really enjoy it.”
Among the characters is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the form of an 11-year-old boy, played by Nederland freshman Ed Seymour.
“Iris is trying to escape from ‘Great Island’ to try to find this image that she has in her mind,” Seymour said. “Mozart is just playing this little portable piano on the beach, and she just kind of runs into him. And they just instantly click.”
Seymour said that, ironically, his birthday is the same day as Mozart’s.
Taylor said one of the play’s larger themes is the power of friendship and family.
“I think anyone that comes and sees it, they’re going to feel those family ties that you have,” she said.
The sense of family extends to Taylor’s own theatrical friends, she said.
“Most of us have worked with each other before, but we do have some people that are non-majors — almost half the cast either doesn’t go to school here, or they have a different major,” she said. “We’re all in it together, and it does create a family-like atmosphere.”
Dryden said taking the role of Iris gives her an appreciation for her own memories.
“With every show, there are things that tie to your own life,” she said. “My grandma is actually getting older, and she’s starting to forget, so it does make me value (how) my mind is able to remember things from my childhood and things that happened yesterday — it makes you very grateful.”
Education major Aerial Vickers, Liberty junior, plays Ms. Overlook. She said the part gives her an appreciation of her theatrical memories from high school.
“When the opportunity arose, I jumped on it,” she said. “I feel like I’m remembering who I am — getting to do theater again. But, I guess it makes me appreciate when I had the opportunity to do it all the time, like, ‘Wow, that really was a great time of my life.’”
Seymour said he believes his portrayal of Mozart’s character resonates with the children who are sometimes left out.
“Mozart represents that shy little kid that is kind of just dragged along with his friends, but he still feels like part of the group,” he said. “He is also really shy towards the middle of the show, so it might help others — shy kids — maybe come out of their shell a little bit, kind of try to be part of a group.”
Haygood said the production’s energy is positive throughout both acts, and she gets a rush from playing each character.
“You want to give the kids something fun and big to look at,” she said. “I like playing it big, because the energy you have to have to do it is really — I don’t know — it’s really, like, adrenaline.”
We’re all a child at heart, Dryden said, and whether it’s humorous or emotional, there’s something for everyone to take from the performance.
“It is a children’s play, but adults are going to be able to come and relate to everything that they see onstage,” she said. “We’re never as close to crying as when we’re laughing. You make an audience laugh, and all of a sudden, one of those serious moments hits, and it’s like, whoa, and that’s the way life is.”
Show times are 7:30 p.m., April 6, 7 and 8, and 2 p.m., April 9.
Tickets are $7 for LU students, $10 for faculty and staff, seniors and students, and $15 general admission.
For more information, call 880-2250.
UP multimedia editor