Tuesday, September 22, 2009

www.azstarnet.com ® | Straight from the Art

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Tim Clue popped into town ...
09/21/2009 10:18 AM
Kathleen Allen

Sunday to catch a performance of the play he and his partner Spike Manton penned, “Leaving Iowa.” The comedy is currently at Invisible Theatre in a production starring Roberto Guajardo (full disclosure here: he’s my husband and I think he’s brilliant), Terry Erbe, David Johnston, Lori Hunt, Victoria McGee and Susan Kovitz. In this picture, Clue’s the one seated second from left.
[Tim Clue (second from left, seated), with cast crew, etc, of Leaving Iowa.]

Clue and the cast and crew popped into Pastiche after the show, and he gushed about the Susan Claassen-directed production, insisting it was one of the better ones he had seen of it.

It is quite funny. And not just because my husband’s in it. Claassen used a restrained hand in directing a play that could have been over-the-top sentimental. Instead, it hits much harder because it is so much more subtle and heart-felt.

Clue, an actor, comedian, screen writer and playwright, hopes to see this play transfer to the big screen. He meets next month with actor Jeff Daniels, who founded the Purple Rose Theatre – the company to first stage “Leaving Iowa.”

Just think … you can say you saw it here first.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

IT's 'Leaving Iowa' is a poignant and hilarious take on family trips | www.azstarnet.com ®


IT's 'Leaving Iowa' is a poignant and hilarious take on family trips | www.azstarnet.com ®:
Accent

IT's 'Leaving Iowa' is a poignant and hilarious take on family trips
By Cathalena E. Burch
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.18.2009

Don Browning is on a mission.

He needs to spread his father's ashes at his grandparents' Iowa home.

Problem is, the home is gone, replaced by a grocery store.

It just doesn't seem right to leave Dad in aisle 7, next to the kitty litter.




From left, Mom (Victoria McGee), Dad (David Johnston), Don (Roberto Guajardo) and Sis (Susan Kovitz) study the Iowa map to plan their next "exotic" trip in Invisible Theatre's "Leaving Iowa."
Tim Fuller / Courtesy of Invisible Theatre

So Don's predictable mission becomes a major adventure along the endlessly bucolic landscape of Iowa, where adventures are as hard to come by as steep hills.

Along the way, he recounts boyhood road trips with his history-obsessed, side-tripping father as he tries to find the most suitable resting place.

That's the premise of Tim Clue and Spike Manton's "Leaving Iowa," a poignantly touching and belly-bustingly funny story of family dynamics that Invisible Theatre is staging to open its 39th season.
The story is told through seamlessly executed flashbacks that take us along with the Brownings on their "unpredictable" family vacations to exotic locales like Hannibal, Mo. The trips are always predictable: Dad drags them along to see historic markers and Civil War re-enactments, and Mom gets swooped up in a traveling Amish flea market.

The stage is simply set with boxes that the actors roll around to create different scenes — the family car, a counter at the diner, a hotel counter, an auto shop and a bar.

There's a serious risk here for the time-traveling to trip up the audience. But clever lighting and impeccably timed interruptions — Mom, Dad and Sis freeze in their tracks as Don flips midscene to current day — kept the action on track.

"Leaving Iowa" also could easily slip into sappy sentimentality, but director Susan Claassen, IT's longtime managing artistic director, was happily restrained. She allowed the mushy moments — like when Don breaks down in an out-of-the-way diner and weeps over the missed opportunity to attend his father's funeral — to evolve organically.

Don's diner outburst was the play's most dramatic moment. Most of the other action left Wednesday's nearly sold-out opening-night audience laughing like they were watching home movies from their own lives.
The humor in the hands of this cast never felt forced. David Johnston's father figure is the oblivious nerd, obsessed with passing every recreational vehicle on the highway and taking his family on history-seeking adventures that play out more like a dentist visit than a vacation.

Victoria McGee as Mom is sublimely understated, the perfect June Cleaver wannabe. On the rare occasions she raises her voice, everyone snaps to attention.

Roberto Guajardo brings a well-timed sense of humor to Don as he narrates the family's vacation slide show with deliciously funny asides, and Susan Kovitz is richly annoying as the pestering little sister. The two together are pricelessly true-to-life, particularly in the scene where Sis convinces Daddy that Don smacked her with his copy of Mark Twain short stories. Truth is she thumped him.

(Don't be embarrassed if you whisper to your neighbor, "That's my kids" or "That was me and my sister." It's easy to see yourself in these characters.)

But the runaway scene stealers throughout the production were Terry Erbe and Lori Hunt, who play at least a half-dozen characters — from the Brownings' grandparents to the car mechanic and his John Wayne-impersonating sidekick; diner cook and annoyingly chatty waitress; and hotel clerk and flirtatious hotel guest.

Erbe and Hunt deliciously exaggerated every back-road stereotype, from the hillbilly drawl to the bumbling, dumbstruck demeanor that defined most of those characters. Never once, though, did it come off as gratuitous or forced.

Review
"Leaving Iowa"
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• Playwrights: Tim Clue and Spike Manton.
• Director: Susan Claassen.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 4.
• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
• Tickets: $22-$25, with rush tickets available for half-price a half-hour before curtain, if available.
• Information/reservations: 882-9721.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at 573-4642 or cburch@azstarnet.com

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

Friday, September 11, 2009

'Leaving Home' takes you back | www.azstarnet.com ®

'Leaving Home' takes you back | www.azstarnet.com ®: "Quantcast

Accent

'Leaving Home' takes you back

By Kathleen Allen
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.11.2009

Frustration can be a powerful motivator. It's what got Tim Clue and his writing partner, Spike Manton, to put fingers to keyboard and come up with 'Leaving Iowa,' which Invisible Theatre opens next week.
'We were tired of not getting our calls picked up by our literary agent,' said Clue, speaking by phone from his Chicago home.



The cast of 'Leaving Iowa' includes, front row, Victoria McGee and David Johnston and, back row, Roberto Guajardo and Susan Kovitz.
Tim Fuller / Courtesy of Invisible Theatre


The two had written screenplays together, were comedians and had tackled other writing projects. Still, that agent was elusive.

Maybe a play would do the trick.

Theater was a new venture for them when they sat down to brainstorm a play about family vacations and coming to grips with life, love and death.
The two, friends since college, thought of 'the tortured trips of our past,' said Clue.
'We both shared that time-capsule experience of road trips where the destination is not nearly as memorable as the trips,' he said.

And they pulled from other memories growing up.

'My father was a bigger-than-life persona,' said Clue.

'He ran a tavern in a small town and was known for kicking people out. We wanted to do an homage to that generation, the greatest generation. … There was a beauty and simplicity to their own sense of purpose. Only in retrospect can you be almost awestruck by someone's purpose, someone's mission. And his mission, as a low-middle-class, small-town, non-college-educated man, was to make sure our life was better than his life. I thought to myself, how can we construct a play that honors him?

'And I wanted to honor father/son relationships where very little was spoken — it was a relationship of acts and deeds, not of psychobabble.'

'Leaving Iowa' is a raucous little comedy with characters that smack of 'that's my mom' and 'hey, my sister and I did that.'

It's about a son who returns home to bring his father's ashes to his requested resting place. As he drives, ashes next to him, he strikes up conversations with his dad and recalls family vacations to obscure, history-heavy, only-dad-would-love places.

'How many of us have a quintessential memory of something that our father or mother did on one of those trips?' said Clue, adding that voicing those memories often makes for emotion-laden moments.
Not that this play is a tear-jerker. It isn't, but there are soft, poignant moments that break up the story fat with one-liners and ridiculous but oh-so-familiar situations.

'I hope,' said Clue, 'that the play is a playful celebration of the profoundly simple.'
Oh, and that agent? Since Michigan's Purple Rose Theatre Company premiered the play in 2004, it's been staged by theaters around the country. Their agent takes their calls now.

If you go
'Leaving Iowa'
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• Playwrights: Tim Clue and Spike Manton.
• Director: Susan Claassen.
• When: Preview at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; opening 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Regular performances 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 4.
• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
• Tickets: $16-$25, with rush tickets available for half-price a half-hour before curtain, if available.
• Information/reservations: 882-9721.
• Cast: Terry Erbe, Roberto Guajardo, Lori Hunt, David Johnston, Susan Kovitz and Victoria McGee.
• Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at 573-4128 or kallen@azstarnet.com