“Leaving Iowa” at Theatre in the Park Is a Hilarious — and Touching — Comedy About Family Vacations

The Browning family of "Leaving Iowa" is on the road again. They include (from left) Ann Davis (front), Kelly McConkey (rear), Mark Olexic, and Timothy Corbett (photo by Ira David Wood III)
The Browning family of "Leaving Iowa" is on the road again. They include (from left) Ann Davis (front), Kelly McConkey (rear), Mark Olexic, and Timothy Corbett (photo by Ira David Wood III)
Theatre in the Park will stage "Leaving Iowa" April 13-15, 19-22, and 27-29 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in Raleigh, NC

Theatre in the Park will present a community-theater production of Leaving Iowa, a hilarious comedy about family vacations written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton and directed by TIP executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III, on April 13-15, 19-22, and 27-29 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre. The cast includes Timothy Corbett, Ann Davis, Larry Evans, Kelly McConkey, Mark Olexik, and Randall Rickman.

Leaving Iowa … is the story of Don Browning, a middle-aged writer, who returns home and decides to finally take his father’s ashes to his childhood home, as requested,” says director David Wood. “But when Don discovers Grandma’s house is now a grocery store, he begins traveling across Iowa searching for a proper resting place. This road trip shifts smoothly from the present to Don’s memories of the annual, torturous vacations of his childhood. Don’s existential journey finally leads him to reconcile his past and present at the center of the United States.

“For the playwrights,” Wood explains, “the spark behind Leaving Iowa came from being children of parents from the now dubbed ‘Greatest Generation.’ The story is a toast to their idealism and character and a little roast of their undying dedication to the classic family road trip.”

Wood claims, “Watching this play is a lot like looking in a mirror. The audience will see their own parents or children in the characters. Most people can certainly relate to fighting with a sibling in the car or driving parents crazy with that exact same squabbling. This is the real beauty of Leaving Iowa. It’s a story of the everyman, but it’s a story that is entertaining and thoughtful at the same time.”

 The Browning family of "Leaving Iowa" is on the road again. They include (from left) Ann Davis (front), Kelly McConkey (rear), Mark Olexic, and Timothy Corbett (photo by Ira David Wood III)
The Browning family of "Leaving Iowa" is on the road again. They include (from left) Ann Davis (front), Kelly McConkey (rear), Mark Olexik, and Timothy Corbett (photo by Ira David Wood III)

David Wood says people ask him, “Is it anything like National Lampoon’s Family Vacation [1983]?” He answers, “Yes — in some ways. There’s certainly a generous share of humor. You have the average family — father, mother, daughter, and son crammed in a station wagon for hours on end, heading toward a destination supposedly selected as a result of the democratic process … which basically means the Dad has decided to take the family to Hannibal, Missouri. The kids are not particularly happy about that fact.

“We’ve all been in this situation,” Wood says. “We all remember at least one particular childhood vacation … perhaps more than one. We always love to recount the experience(s) during family gatherings. It becomes a sort of right of passage – and the stories never seem to grow old.”

He adds, “Leaving Iowa is also a very touching play. We see the vacation in flashback … so we’re already seeing a memory that’s become more colorful than perhaps it originally was. We’re also seeing it through the eyes of the son who has now become a man … and he’s reflecting on this particular memory while at the same time embarking on yet another pilgrimage … to find a resting place for his father’s ashes.

“I believe we can all identify with the son’s genuine sense of mourning, for his father, for his childhood, and for our nation’s loss of its Heartland to chain stores and parking lots,” says Wood. “The story simply meanders its way into your heart.”

Wood notes, “The family members are delightfully played by Timothy Corbett (the father), Ann Davis (the mother), Kelly McConkey (the daughter), and Mark Olexik (the son). There are, of course, other eccentric characters that the Browning family meets along the way.

“This entire group of hysterical misfits is brought to life by the amazing talents of only two performers — Larry Evans and Randall Rickman,” explains David Wood. “They play all of the extraneous characters … male and female. (The backstage quick changes are an entertainment in and of themselves!)”

The cast includes (from left) Randall Rickman, Mark Olexic, and Larry Evans (photo by Ira David Wood III)
The cast includes (from left) Randall Rickman, Mark Olexik, and Larry Evans (photo by Ira David Wood III)

In addition to director David Wood, the Theatre in the Park creative team for Leaving Iowa includes technical director and set and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson, costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson, and stage manager Christine Rapp.

Director David Wood says, “Shawn Stewart-Larson’s costumes capture the feel of the period perfectly. The Browning family is portrayed more realistically, while the additional characters are larger than life — just as our memories often tend to recreate the occasional characters in our own lives. These people vary from a cook and waitress to a farmer and his wife.

“We decided to create colorful two-dimensional props to highlight the comic book ‘feel’ of the show,” says Wood. “Much of the action naturally takes place in a car … and that’s an obvious technical challenge which I think we’ve handled quite nicely. Our technical director, Steve Larson, has also employed the use of wonderful rear-screen projections to help transport the audience to the various locations in the story. A gas pump, a windmill, and a silo drift on an off stage as locations easily shift from one place to another.”

Wood says, “This two-act play finally presents 1960s Americana in such a poignant yet humorous light that audiences can’t help but allow their imaginations to drift to their own families and road trips. It has genuine charm and humility because it knows what it is — a simply structured homegrown comedy and a celebration of the oft-unappreciated parenting skills of the so-called Greatest Generation.

“Clinging to the childhood memories of family vacations, we hope the play will leave audiences more appreciative of the ordinary experiences of their own lives,” says director David Wood. “Leaving Iowa is a postcard to anyone who has ever found himself or herself driving alone on a road, revisiting fond memories of youth.

SECOND OPINION: April 10th Raleigh, NC News 14 Carolina interview with Mark Olexik, conducted by Marti Skold: http://triangle.news14.com/content/656094/in-depth–mark-olexik–lead-actor-in–leaving-iowa-; and April 3rd Raleigh, NC WRAL-TV interview with Ira David Wood III: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/10940387/#/vid10940387.

Theatre in the Park presents LEAVING IOWA at 7:30 p.m. April 13 and 14, 3 p.m. April 15, 7:30 p.m. April 19-21, 3 p.m. April 22, 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 28, and 3 p.m. April 29 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $22 ($16 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://theatreinthepark.com/leaving_iowa.html.

SEASON: http://theatreinthepark.com/season_memberships.html.

PRESENTER/VENUE:  http://www.theatreinthepark.com/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/directions_and_parking.html.

NOTE: The April 27th performance is SOLD OUT.


The Play: http://leavingiowa.com/ (official website), http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/p1907/Leaving-Iowa/product_info.html (Dramatic Publishing), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Clue (Wikipedia).

Tim Clue: http://timclue.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Clue (Wikipedia). 

Spike Manton: http://www.spikemanton.com/ (official website). 

Ira David Wood III: http://theatreinthepark.com/theatre_staff_board.html (Theatre in the Park bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_David_Wood_III (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).