Riverside’s latest production brings life to play about death

Riverside transports its audience to a world of mystery and monologues with its newest show, “Sonnets for an Old Century.” In it, characters share stories from their lives while in an otherworldly afterlife.


Jerod Ringwald

The Iowa City Riverside Theatre website displays “Sonnets For an Old Century” information on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

Jenna Post, Arts Reporter

This weekend, Riverside Theatre took viewers on a journey to another world with the premiere of Sonnets for an Old Century.

The show’s near two-hour runtime consists of back-to-back monologues, each performed by a different character reflecting on their life. Characters in the show share a world in the afterlife, but never notice each other, remaining frozen when they aren’t giving their monologue.

The isolated world the characters find themselves in is reminiscent of a sci-fi version of Alice In Wonderland. By combining natural and inorganic materials and cleverly utilizing a greenscreen, scenic designer S. Benjamin Farrar created a setting that feels familiar enough to exist somewhere in the universe, but alien enough to feel like another planet.

The setting also plays with size, seating one actor on a tree branch that seems too thin to support a human, and another in a field surrounded by plants that makes the character seem smaller than they should be. Farrar is clearly aware of how the audiences’ minds will interpret scale based on the understanding of our world, which keeps the show visually interesting despite its minimal use of props and movement.

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The Riverside team also included special effects that enhanced the monologues. When a character spoke about wind, sun, or other natural phenomena, a correlating effect was added to the scene.

Juxtaposed with the foreign setting, these Earthly moments are bittersweet, reminding the audience that these characters won’t get to experience Earth again, but have been able to find meaning in their time on Earth in death.

The monologues cover a wide variety of topics and viewpoints. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t relate to at least one character in the show, because they come from many backgrounds. From a man who spent years in prison to a woman with 16 children, there’s something for everyone.

Monologues that aren’t relatable to the viewer provide thought-provoking perspectives that can challenge the way one views the world, which can be just as valuable as seeing themself reflected in a relatable monologue.

Acting choices in the show were just as diverse as the monologues themselves. Some characters were played highly comedically, while others were played with a palpable underlying sadness. This play allowed local actors to step into the spotlight to display their range and talent.

Sonnets for an Old Century was produced in conjunction with Riverside’s “The Sonnet Project,” which celebrates Shakespeare’s birth month by keeping sonnets alive as a storytelling medium.

This production showcased that sonnets can not only keep the interest of a modern audience, but also create a viewing experience unlike any other storytelling medium. Sonnets for an Old Century will be available to stream through April 25.

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