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BWW Review: LEAVING IOWA at Des Moines Playhouse: Going on a Journey Back to Easier Times

A show that will have you reminiscing

BWW Review: LEAVING IOWA at Des Moines Playhouse: Going on a Journey Back to Easier Times
Debra Garner as Mom
Hope Walker as Sis
Sam Sides as Don
Greg Millar as Dad
Photo by Brent Isenberger

Sometimes, one of the hardest things we can do take the time to reflect. Taking that time to reminisce can sometimes lead to a fresh perspective for us. A few nights ago, one of my theatre friends Mariah Kerns took the time to reflect on the last year. She shared on Facebook, regarding her and her husband, "The last "normal" thing we did before voluntarily going into quarantine on March 15, 2020, was see a live show. Last night, nearly a year later, we went to see another." The show she referred to was Des Moines Playhouse's preview of "Leaving Iowa," which I streamed on opening night, February 19. Since this viewing, the show's performances have been suspended for two performances due to Covid 19.

"Leaving Iowa," tells the story of Don Browning, who we learn has returned to Winterset, Iowa, from Boston, to scatter The Remains of his father. What starts as a short trip to the old family farm becomes a journey when the family farm has been torn down and had a grocery store built in its place. He quickly decides that he cannot leave his father's remains there and sets out to find the perfect place to leave his father. As he sets out to find a new place, he remembers a family vacation where everything seemed to go wrong. What happened on this family vacation, and does he find a final resting place for his father, that you will have to see "Leaving Iowa" to find out.

Narrating the show is Sam Sides, who is making his Playhouse debut as Don Browning. One of the things I appreciated about his performance was how he tackled the challenge of bringing Don to life on stage at two various stages of his life. Sam effortlessly can switch from adult Don to Child Don within a few moments. Each stage in the character's life has distinctive characteristics that still felt unified throughout the show.

BWW Review: LEAVING IOWA at Des Moines Playhouse: Going on a Journey Back to Easier Times
Debra Garner as Mom
Hope Walker as Sis
Sam Sides as Don
Greg Millar as Dad
Photo by Brent Isenberger

Filling out the family is Gregory Millar, Debra Garner, and Hope Walker, making her Playhouse debut as Dad, Mom, and Sis. They each do a fantastic job at playing up their characters' archetypes during the trip that we see through the play. All three actors give terrific performances that audience members will easily recognize and relate to.

While most of the cast plays one character at different ages throughout the show, part of the evening's fun is seeing Josh Sampson and Elysa Koss continue to pop up throughout the evening. While each of them has their own unique acting style, they play well off each other whenever they are on stage. Each time they popped into the play, they were playing another character. I enjoyed seeing how they made each of the characters they played unique without pulling us as an audience out of the show. While each of them has their own unique acting style, they play well off each other whenever they are on stage.

Besides having a talented group of actors, to tell a great story, you need a great team behind the scenes to tell the story we see on stage effectively. The Playhouse has assembled a terrific team with directors Peter Dean and David R. Kilpatrick and scenic change artist Alex Snodgrass, costume/properties designer Angela Lampe, and lighting designer Virgil Kleinhesselink. Usually, I would talk about each of these areas separately, but part of the beauty of watching "Leaving Iowa" was how cohesive each element was to tell the story. Because of this cohesiveness, we can easily travel instantaneously from 1985 to 2005 and leap from Winterset, IA to Hannibal, MO, throughout the evening.

BWW Review: LEAVING IOWA at Des Moines Playhouse: Going on a Journey Back to Easier Times
Debra Garner as Mom
Hope Walker as Sis
Sam Sides as Don
Greg Millar as Dad
Photo by Brent Isenberger

While seeing "Leaving Iowa" will make for an enjoyable evening out, or even on your screen of choice, it also takes us to a time when things seemed to be more accessible, a day before Covid. Des Moines Playhouse has temporarily stopped performances of "Leaving Iowa" due to a positive covid test but plans to open the production back up on March 4 and continue it's run through March 21. They also have stringent guidelines in place to protect both audiences and volunteers should this happen. When speaking about the safety measures put in place by the Playhouse, my friend Mariah said, "Honestly, it felt safer than the grocery store." To find out more about "Leaving Iowa," visit Leaving Iowa - Des Moines Playhouse (dmplayhouse.com).

Don't forget, Des Moines Playhouse is getting ready to open up two additional productions. The first is "Nature of the Dream," which runs virtually from February 25-March 7, and Stuart Little which runs from February 26-March 14. To find out more about either production, visit Home - Des Moines Playhouse (dmplayhouse.com)

Review was written by DC Felton
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