by Sharon Falduto
Washington - The family road trip is a situation easily mined for a story, for nostalgia, and for humor. Even in the modern era, families still pack the car for trips around the country and forced family bonding.
Leaving Iowa, presented by the Washington Community Theater, is a nice play. Gentle humor, gentle people, and slight self deprecating jabs at Iowa that should make every Iowan smile. We are warned before the play begins that we are not allowed to video tape, take photos, or detassel during the performance.
Don is the main character of the show, the prodigal son who returns home to visit family, and to fulfill a promise to his father. The play is told in a series of flashbacks to the family vacations of their youth; interminable car rides with the sibling squabbles and wrong turns that anyone who has ever taken a road trip will recognize. He is played by affable Steven Lockard, who transitions seamlessly from annoyed older brother to a grown man on an “adventure” and back again. His reactions to his annoying little sister feel true, and his weariness as he completes the task set before him as an older man shows in the slump of his shoulders.
Dad, played in the flashbacks by Brett Pierson, is the center of the story and carries himself energetically and with enthusiasm as he treats his family to Civil War reenactments, historical markers, and other Fascinating Road Trip Wonders. He is a quiet presence on stage when his character is no longer with us, and a bubbly center when he is.
Melody Lockard's Mom character is alternately annoyed, patient, and balancing precariously in between—a mom we can all relate to. Melanie Jeter-Hawkins retains a nice sense of character as she shifts from the role of pesty younger sister to the adult role of irritating younger sister. I didn't quite feel the chemistry I wanted, however, between her and her brother.
The show suffered from some pacing problems and dragged occasionally, forcing the audience to wait too long for the punch line of a long tale.
The incidental characters that drifted through the play were used to nice effect; their sight gags and characters were sometimes unexpected and sometimes familiar. After all, a play called Leaving Iowa is almost required to have at least one farmer in Osh Kosh B'Goshs and one homage to “American Gothic,” isn't it? My particular favorite character was Sue Spencer's Museum Assistant, the sort of stern usherette type every theatergoer has encountered at least once.
Leaving Iowa is an Iowan kind of show; not flashy, but droll, and with a good heart. Before the show begins we are treated to a slide show of some wonderful Iowa scenery, which is a nice introduction to the state and to the show. The message of the play, which will resonate with many Iowa Theatre Blog readers, is that you can leave Iowa, but it will still be your home.