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LA Theater Review

Leaving Iowa

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Cornpone is just a trip away in Iowa's environs, or so playwrights Tim Clue and Spike Manton would have us believe. Their quasi-sentimental tale about the Brownings' family vacations in the Midwest from the perspective of Don (Kevin Symons) Browning, son to larger-than-life Dad (Gregory North) and pre-feminism Mom (Jill Brennan), covers a lot of familiar territory if you have ever taken a family vacation by car.

The plot boils down to grownup Don's feelings of guilt over missing his father's funeral as he comes home to Winterset, Iowa, for a family event and ends up taking on the task of disposing of his father's ashes. What follows is a series of flashbacks to his childhood, when he and his sister (Erin Bennett) took the hot, dreaded summer vacation with his history-teacher dad and father-knows-best mom.

Director Clue, whose experiences in standup comedy are patently evident, mixes broad farce with what could be a nostalgic sojourn given less of an emphasis on laughs. The four principal actors acquit themselves well, even though it is tough work to accept grownups as children. The greatest shortcoming in the show is the co-authors' inclusion of every dumb stereotype imaginable for characters the family encounters. There are hick farmers, quilting Amish, a diner guy and his gabby waitress — well, you get the picture. JJ Rodgers and Roy Abramsohn give it more than all they've got in all these parts, but Clue would have been more successful if he had scaled back on the buffoonery.

In spite of that, there are some pluses. Youthful Bennett and Symons shine as they try to convince their dad to heed the billboards and visit Ghost Cavern. Dwight Richard Odle's colorful costumes and John Berger's equally attractive set enhance the action. But the work is sitcom when it could have been more.

Presented by and at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach. Nov. 15-Dec. 14. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Additional performances Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, Sun., 7 p.m. No performance Nov. 27, Thu., 8 p.m.) (949) 497-2787, ext. 229, or www.lagunaplayhouse.com.

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