Leaving Iowa

Theatre in the Park
Through April 29

Leaving Iowa sometimes does its job a little too well, which means audiences might feel like they’re trapped in a car with screaming children on a never-ending trip. For others, though, its close-to-home look at family vacations might evoke a sense of nostalgia.

Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s script takes a non-chronological look at the family vacations of newspaperman Don Browning (Mark Olexik) as he attempts to scatter the ashes of his father (Timothy Corbett/ a prop urn) as an adult. Numerous setbacks and detours thwart Don’s plans as he flashes back to his childhood trips with his mom (Ann Davis), dad and sister (Kelly Conkey), which almost inevitably resulted in Dad dragging them to some out-of-the-way tourist trap or nearly getting them killed on the highway.

There’s a Jean Shepherd-esque quality to some of the dry reminiscences, such as a trip to some poorly named “Ghost Caverns.” But shrill cartoonishness threatens to overwhelm much of the proceedings. Ira David Wood III directs the cast to emote at top volume, which at times proves painful, such as Conkey’s high-pitched squeal as the young sister. There’s also far too many cheap laughs from Larry Evans and Randall Rickman in supporting roles that degenerate into cheap jokes about men in drag portraying the broadest Midwestern stereotypes imaginable.

The script is the weakest link. The production could easily have been reduced by about a half-hour; the second act feels heavily drawn-out. To the writers’ credit, the play does evoke some of those larger-than-life hellish memories of childhood car trips (remind me to tell you about the time my parents spontaneously decided to take a Sunday drive to Bath, N.C., four hours each way and 20 minutes spent in the actual town).

Though I’ll cop to nearly developing a migraine by the first act’s curtain, I’ll also admit that I have rarely seen a play encourage such personal recollections among audience members during intermission, as people stood around recalling family vacations of their own. Leaving Iowa is large and loud, and it attempts some sentiment it doesn’t quite earn; at its best, it captures that weird combination of Stockholm syndrome and excitement that comes when one remembers an old family vacation.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Four nights of Raleigh tales.”