Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Leaving Iowa is set in 1970s Iowa and focuses on a family of four. Dad, a teacher on summer break, is keen to load his wife, son and daughter up in the family car and set off on an unpredictable road trip full of adventure. However, his ideas of stopping off at a cemetery or the birthplace of Mark Twain aren't of much interest to his kids, who'd much rather visit their grandparents or stop at a motel with a pool. The play moves between these road trips and the present day where son Don, now a newspaper columnist living in Boston, is back home in Iowa for his nephew's christening. He's wracked with guilt for missing both his father's retirement party as well as his funeral so he sets off on an adventure of his own to find a place to sprinkle his father's ashes. Don recounts in flashback his memories of some of his family road trips while having unexpected adventures and mishaps of his own on his current journey. He also realizes just how much he admired and loved his father and these family adventures.
While Clue and Manton have crafted a fairly endearing and entertaining piece that anyone who has ever gone on a hectic family road trip can easily relate to, the two-act play could easily be reduced by the authors by about 30 minutes into a 90-minute one act and have even more impact. As it currently exists, many of the scenes play out in a similar fashion to ones that have come before: the kids argue in the car, mom has to intercede, the father decides to stop off at some out of the way location where they meet a strange local resident while learning something about themselves in the process. That scenario is then repeated several times over the course of the play. The overly long issue isn't something Fountain Hills is responsible for, or can remedy, and fortunately director Ben Tyler has cast the show with a talented group of actors who, along with Tyler's direction, do a good job of keeping things moving along as fast as possible while letting the comic and more poignant moments resonate.
Chad Campbell and Katherine Barnett portray Don and his sister at both preteen and adult ages. They both do quite well in playing the vastly different ages of their charactersboth as whining, fighting and complaining children and as overly critical adults with too much responsibility, baggage and guilt. They flip between the age periods with expert speed, and Campbell does a good job of keeping the tone of his narration not too overly sentimental.
Harold LeBoyer and Kandyce Hughes portray their parents. LeBoyer is good as the father who seems to always be threatening to pull the car over when the children get unruly but also is full of excitement about the unique possibilities these family adventures might bring. Hughes does very well as the woman who is stuck in the thankless job of trying to keep the peace and the family in balance. Karl Perry and Emily Spets are very funny as the various people the family meet on their journeys.
Tyler provides some fun sound effect gags as well as sentimental projection designs that feature dozens of period photographs of the cities and sites of Iowa projected on a large screen that also serves as an easy way to quickly set the many scenes in the show. Peter Hill's set design is simple but very effective, with a combination of wooden slats and blown-up road maps that give the show a nice rustic feel and period feel.
While Leaving Iowa is not a perfect comedy it does have a nice message at its center: that the journey through life is more important, and often much more exciting, than the final destination.
Fountain Hills Theater's production of Leaving Iowa runs through August 27th, 2017, with performances at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills AZ. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.
Director / Sound and Projection Design: Ben Tyler