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BWW Review: ESCAPING THE LABYRINTH at Des Moines Playhouse


This magical journey runs at Des Moines Playhouse through October 24.

BWW Review: ESCAPING THE LABYRINTH at Des Moines Playhouse
Cast of "Escaping the Labyrinth"
Photo by Steve Gibbons

While we've been stuck at home for the last year, Des Moines Playhouse has been working behind the scenes on something brand new. They have been chosen as part of the American Association of Community Theatre AACT New Play Festival. This opportunity has allowed them to produce the world premiere of "Escaping the Labyrinth" by Thomas S. Hischak. While the journey around the world may be timeless, this production isn't and must close on October 24.

Imagine meeting and even falling in love with one of the Greek gods or goddesses. "Escaping the Labyrinth" tells the story of Bud Schlieman, a young American professor who happens to meet one of the Greek gods while on a trip to Greece. During a conversation with him, one of the gods reveals themselves to him, and he sets out on a journey to meet the goddess Artemis. When he meets and falls in love with her, she runs away. He sets on a journey through the rest of the show to find her. Is he able to find her? To find out, you will have to see the show, which you can do in person at the Playhouse or as video on demand.

When seeing a show, I always appreciate it when a designer thinks outside of the box and comes up with a unique way to tell the story we see on stage. Nicholas Amundson's set design has done just that. His set, which is, for the most part, a mix of platforms and steps, has a simple and rustic feel to it which takes the audience to Greece, where the show starts and ends.

One of my favorite things about seeing shows is when different elements work together to make something beautiful or magical happen on stage. In this show, this happened for me in combining the lighting and sound during the show. The show starts with the sound design by Mark Toebben, featuring some beautiful electronic music that has this celestial sound to it. While the music was stunning by itself, combined with the rotating gobos in Chris Hanian's gorgeous lighting design, it allowed for an experience that words cannot describe. The moment left me as speechless as I was at the end of Des Moines Playhouse's production of "Silent Sky" in 2019, which had a magical moment with Mark Toebben's sound design as well.

What truly makes this show work is the exceptional ensemble that makes up this cast. While most characters pop onto the stage for just a scene, each one brings something interesting and unique to their scenes. The cast features 3 Playhouse debuts with Jillian Traskos as Dee, Shelby Dale as Paula, and Dottie Flener as Hester. The show also has multiple members machining their return to the Playhouse stage, Tyler Robinson as Herman, Don Rothwiler as Manos, Clifton Antoine as Julian, Ken Reams as Dr. Valency, Madison Ray as Sarge, and Jim Meade as Old Bud. Together, this ensemble makes this journey one that audiences won't soon forget.

As an audience, part of the fun of watching this show is watching Nick Cornelison, who plays Bud Schlieman, go on this across Europe and the US as he searches for his Artemis. He brings a youthful energy from the top of the show that allows the audience to believe that his character truly believes the characters he meets are the Greek god and goddesses we all learned about in school. As his character journeys through time, and matures, so does the relationships he has with each cast member in the show. It was fun as an audience member to watch this transformation happen.

Whether you are looking for an escape from your house or looking for a journey that takes you to travel to places you may not see every day, "Escaping the Labyrinth" is a fantastic show. From the beautiful technical elements to the fantastic cast, this play allows the audience to attend, relax, and enjoy an evening of theatre. A special thanks to Des Moines Playhouse for taking a risk on presenting a world premiere play. If you want to see this show, you can see this by purchasing tickets for an in-person performance or video on demand by visiting

Review was written by DC Felton
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