Reality TV has nothing on Lamb's Players' good Leaving IowaBY MARTIN JONES WESTLINIf I hadn't been watching the opening scenes of Leaving Iowa, Lamb's Players Theatre's current San Diego premiere, I'd have sworn I was listening to a live feed on the whereabouts of a late family patriarch's remains. Seems the Brownings misplaced Dad's ashes after the service, only to find the urn three years later on top of the fuse box. Betcha three bottles of Kaopectate somebody's done that somewhere in America, maybe even in Iowa. It's exactly the kind of bonehead move through which reality TV shows snag their sponsors to live another day.Come to think of it, son Don would make a decent central figure in a modern reality series. The setup would involve a 1960s summer vacation through Iowa and its profound effect on this big-time Boston newspaper columnist. He missed his father's funeral, and now, he's launched a road trip in dad's honor, complete with the memories of the 40-year-old getaway that, for him, helped define the family. TV, of course, would sensationalize the outcome for viewers with nothing better to do, which includes just about all of 'em—but while the staged approach may be pretty lightweight by comparison, its endearing side holds up fairly well.The show has its excesses, most all of which could have been remedied early on in rehearsals. Dad (David Cochran Heath) calls Don “big guy” and daughter Sis “sweet-pea” ad nauseam; helmer Deborah Gilmour Smyth milks the kids' contentiousness during the vacation scenes and sanctions bits of business that don't carry beyond the second row. But as distracting as they are, those childhood rows will give way to something remarkable four decades later—the chemistry between Don (Kürt Norby) and Sis (Colleen Kollar Smith). Sis will have none of the prodigal brother's contrition, and Smith and Norby are outstanding in those exchanges. Heath, an excellent character man in roles that call for healthy doses of down-home Americana, has Dad's “aw, shucks” comportment down-pat. Mom's too bitchy to let a mere 40 years stand in her way, and Kerry Meads plays her accordingly.Playwrights Tim Clue and Spike Manton provide some curious touches more suited for reality TV than the stage. For some reason, Don talks to his father's ashes, and a series of smaller characters muddies the waters—they're visually arresting, but they come and go too quickly. (I've always liked Cynthia Gerber, and she's a hoot as a ditzy truck-stop waitress.)But Leaving Iowa is ultimately about one man's coming of age, which Norby presents with quiet confidence and a plain-spokenness Don obviously inherited from his dad. “I'm the one in the family who has to do this,” he says early on as he prepares to take the ashes to their final destination. Amid a panoramic backdrop of childhood memories and the self-awareness they generate, we begin to understand why.This review is based on the matinée performance of Aug. 23. Leaving Iowa runs through Sept. 20 at the Ione and Paul Harter Stage, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado. $22-$58. 619-437-0600, www.lambsplayers.org. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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