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Theatre Review: Leaving Iowa

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(Jackson, CA)
Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Leaving Iowa" is a play like a layer cake. It involves two road trips, one in the past, one in the present. Front and center are memories of a 1960 family vacation to Hannibal, Missouri … Dad wants his kids to see the little town on the Mississippi where America's greatest writer grew up. Hannibal is also very close to Iowa, and Dad is thrifty to a fault.

But this nostalgic recollection is layered with a bittersweet modern journey, narrated by the son. He's become a middle-aged newspaper columnist, working for a big paper back east. But he recalls being the bored boy in the back seat. Now he's trying to assess his relationship with his departed Dad, whose enthusiasm for family trips was always out of proportion with reality. Past and present mingle in scenes like this one:

Dad: "I'm telling ya, Hannibal's going to be fun!"

Son: "Our vacations were never fun..."

Dad: "I promise it's going to be fascinating!"

Son: "…And 'fascinating' was the family vacation f-word…"

Dad: "Come here, let's get the luggage…."

Son: "Now understand, Dad, I'm not mad, as much as I am amazed. Amazed that every year, you managed to find places less interest than Winterset, Iowa. Do you realize how difficult that is to do?"

This is a meandering, pastoral comedy about nice people in a flat state. There are comic interludes when the car stops at a roadside attraction, and we meet some loopy local characters. But soon, we're back on the road. The episodic story never hits a climax, but the cast is better than average. My favorite scene invoked Mark Twain's story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," set nearby. Think of "Leaving Iowa" as a recollected ride in the family sedan - warm and endearing, if not always vividly memorable.

The Main Street Theater Works production of "Leaving Iowa" continues at the Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre in Jackson through September 3rd.

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