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Review: Leaving Iowa

“If you are from the Midwest, have left home, taken a road trip, or have a family of any sort, you are required to see this show.”

So states the website for the play “Leaving Iowa,” the current production at Richmond Hill Players written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton and is the directorial debut of RHP’S board vice president, Justin Raver, who stepped up to the plate when the original director had to bow out.

“Leaving Iowa” premiered in 2004 at Jeff Daniel’s famous Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan and was nominated as the Best New Play in the Country by the Detroit Free Press. The extremely family friendly plot revolves around Boston journalist Don Browning’s return to his home town of Winterset, Iowa, to fulfill his now three years deceased father’s request to scatter his cremains at his childhood home – after, that is, his mom finds them tucked behind the canned peaches in the cellar. He loads up his dad’s old beater of a car and sets out for grandma’s house only to find it is now a big box store which presents him with the dilemma of finding the ideal substitute location. Driving along the back roads of Iowa, Don has flashbacks to a childhood family vacation to Hannibal, Missouri and all the little, shall we say – conflicts(?) – along the way. Most of which were instigated by Don and his sister.

On this trip down memory lane, Don finds himself in a one-way conversation with his dad reflecting on his dad’s quirkiness and, ultimately, appreciating that quirkiness and regretting never telling his dad things he wished he had said.

And if you have EVER taken a family vacation you WILL find something to relate to in this well-written script. Don Faust as Dad, and Pam Kobre as Mom reprise their roles from 11 years ago at Playcrafters in Moline. Faust’s dad is endearing as both the penultimate disciplinarian who threatens to pull the car over if the kids don’t stop bickering and as the embarrassing almost childlike over-enthusiastic volunteer at a civil war museum. On the other hand, Kobre’s mom is one dimensional and always seems to be angry as the peace keeper between the children while constantly promoting dad’s over the kids’ wishes with regard to the family vacation.

Kevin Babbitt’s Don is the perfect balance between the corny flashbacks of backseat sibling antics to wistful memories of the dad he didn’t fully prize at the time. Making her theater premier as Don’s sister, Leslie Day, is the consummate brat tormenting her little brother. This show sports an ensemble cast of three men and three women who play a variety of folks encountered on the family vacation, the stand out of which is Patrick Kelly whose range from a one- handed farmer to a college professor was impressive.

I highly recommend you see this show with a sibling, if you can. The ride home will likely be rife with nostalgia and laughter remembering your family vacations. Leaving Iowa continues at Richmond Hills Players Barn Theater in Geneseo Thursday through Saturday, August 25 through 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, August 28 at 2:00 p.m.

I’m Chris Hicks...break a leg.