Saturday, September 19, 2009

THEATRE


THEATRE:
"LOTS OF LAUGHS AND SOME BITTERSWEET MOMENTS AT INVISIBLE THEATRE
By Chuck Graham

Leaving Iowa” is one of those plays that means so much more than its plot. To simply outline the action would be a disservice to the playwrights Tim Clue and Spike Manton.

Invisible Theatre opens its 39th season with a touching production of “Leaving Iowa” directed by IT’s artistic director Susan Claassen. The central figure is Don, given a rangy performance by Roberto Guajardo. He is the person to whom everything happens, and also the person who must provide a bit of narration from time to time.

Thanks to a supporting cast of five who pile on layers of family-type comedy, the whole thing moves along quite nicely. It is sort of a road play, in that most of the action takes place in a car. But it is more significantly a memory play, as Don spends most of his stage time trying to resolve a difficult relationship with his father (played with insight by David Alexander Johnston).

Don’s dad is one of those Greatest Generation fathers who believed in the value of strong silent leadership. Be wise but show no emotion. Discipline the children with a firm but fair hand. Always remember, father knows best.LEAVING IOWA invisible theatre.jpg

It is the “fair” part that bothers Don. He never believed his father was playing fair. Dad always liked Don’s sister (Susan Kovitz) best. Don and his sister were unforgiving siblings who couldn’t stop playing personal power games long after they were grown up.

Don’s mom (Victoria McGee) was from the same era, valuing politeness and letting father lead until it was absolutely necessary for her to step in and take control.

The normal-to-a-fault family takes pride in its self-image of Midwestern stability in an upstanding rural community. Iowans always value a steady ship and feel suspicious of imagination.

Don loves imagination. He grew up to find success as a columnist for a big Boston newspaper and considers his family rather…provincial. He didn’t go back home for any of the family’s milestone events. He was always too busy.

As the play opens, Don is back at the family home in Iowa, feeling guilty. He wants to make peace with the memory of his father, dead now for three years. But Don doesn’t know how.

“Leaving Iowa” then bounces back and forth between recreations of long-ago family vacations in the car, and Don’s present day ruminations wishing he could apologize to his dad so they could finally be friends. This bittersweet blend develops moments that are quite affecting.

Guajardo’s work is quite remarkable, getting laughs by acting like a little kid one minute and holding the audience in complete empathetic silence the next. To be sure the play is a comedy, filled with genuine laughter over so many ridiculous things that can happen on family vacations. There is a lot to laugh at.

The poignant parts aren’t nearly so numerous, but they are very powerful.

Adding more humor are Terry Erbe and Lori Hunt playing all the different characters you might meet on the road back in the days before the Interstate highway system turned car travel into such a monotonous experience. There are the folksy farmers, the ditzy truck stop waitresses, the sullen auto mechanics, the sleazy motel clerks, all those opportunists sucking what life they could from the naïve families who somehow believed life on the open road would bring them closer together.

“Leaving Iowa” plays at Invisible theatre, 1400 N. First Ave., Wednesdays through Sundays to Oct 4. Tickets are $22 and $25. For details, 882-9721, or visit www.invisibletheatre.com