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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | Stage reading of ‘Iris’ portrays difficult human emotions

On Saturday night, University of Iowa postgraduate Silver Writing Fellow Olivia Clement debuted a stage reading for her newest play, “Iris.” Though still in development, the play offered audiences a heartfelt portrayal of grief and loss through a young couple struggling to move on.
Ethan McLaughlin
Performers practice during a dress rehearsal of “Iris” at the Theater Building in Iowa City, on Wednesday, March 27, 2024.

Keep an eye on “Iris,” Iowa City.

On Saturday night, the play’s actors took center stage at Alan MacVey Theatre to deliver a reading of playwright Olivia Clement’s latest work in progress. Clement graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from the University of Iowa last year, and subsequently partnered with director Natalie Villamonte Zito to create something destined to be incredible.

Even though “Iris” is not yet a fully developed play, it has already managed to capture the raw, heartbreaking, and utterly human emotions that surround tragedy.

Immediately, I was struck by the care each actor poured into their characters. Though limited in their movement by the incomplete nature of the play, these actors still managed to convey raw emotion, which led me to care about the relationships they had with one another.

Nicole, played by graduate performer Sarah Gazdowicz, is a woman struggling to accept a miscarriage. The entire play centers around Nicole’s emotional journey as she tries to move forward in life, alongside her husband, Harper, played by fellow graduate performer Orlando Lopez.

The play managed to handle a difficult topic with grace and compassion. Though Nicole and Harper were both hurting and had very different ways of dealing with grief, neither was seen as being in the wrong during their disagreements. This, above all else, is something I truly admired about Clement’s work.

All too often, one party in a disagreement is villainized in media, as audiences are swayed to side with the more “correct” person. Here, however, I found myself agreeing with both the husband and wife’s points, and my heart ached for both of them.

While Nicole finds it hard to move forward from what has happened, Harper has a difficult time vocalizing his feelings. He often shuts down and struggles to talk to Nicole in the weeks after the miscarriage. Both Harper and Nicole care for one another, yet neither is sure how to support their spouse.

Life is not black and white. Grief is complicated. And I loved how this play portrayed that.

I also enjoyed Iris’ character, played by undergraduate performer Sophia Kilburg, whom Nicole meets in the woods early on in the play. I thought adding her in was a clever choice, and allowed the play to take on a more cheerful and uplifting tone whenever she was on stage.

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Iris and Nicole’s relationship gave insight into Nicole as a character and gave me an appreciation for the kind of person she would be if she allowed herself to move on.

Iris’ character came up in conversation in Nicole’s painting job as well. At one point in the play, Nicole has a conversation with a character named Catherine, played by Jody Hovland, about the Greek goddess Iris, who was the goddess of rainbows and commonly portrayed as a messenger god.

This allowed the audience to reflect on the character of Iris and how her purpose in the story in some ways plays with Greek mythology.

Overall, and even though this version was merely a staged reading, I was touched by this performance. With a fuller range of movement, set designs, and more heartfelt performances, this play has the potential to turn into something special.

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About the Contributor
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.