Review: Leaving Iowa at Olympia Little Theatre

By Alec Clayton

“Leaving Iowa” by Spike Manton and Tim Clue, now playing at Olympia Little Theatre, is a sweet laugh-a-minute bit of Americana and nostalgia with a stellar cast directed by Kathryn Dorgan.

Left to right: Jennie Jenks, Anne Tracey, Michael Christopher, and Tom Sanders

Michael Christopher as Don Browning is both narrator and lead actor as he reminisces about the Browning family’s many summer vacations while he drives across mid-America in search of the perfect spot to spread his father’s ashes. He smoothly steps in and out of scenes of the family’s countless vacation trips to less-than-ideal destinations.

The dad (Tom Sanders) is obsessed with roadside attractions, which inevitably turn out to be disappointments while refusing to visit the usually more exciting attractions the family wants to visit. Sister and brother and sister (Anne Tracey and Christopher) constantly fight on the back seat and beg the old man to take them to visit their grandmother, and their mother (Jennie Jenks) kowtows to her husband, who drives like a demon with a death wish and is a domineering yet loving head of the household.

Left to right: Anne Tracey, Jennie Jenks, and Michael Christopher

Along the way, the family meets dozens of characters who are simultaneously the epitome of the white middle-American cliché of the era, and each is unique. There’s the grocery store worker who catches runaway shopping carts in the parking lot that used to be grandma’s home, the farmer with only one hand, the not-exactly-friendly hotel clerk, a whacky waitress, and a hotel guest who tries hilariously to seduce Don — all of these played with comedic perfection by Dan Overton and Kate Ayers.

Kate Ayers and Dan Overton

Everything about “Leaving Iowa,” from the costumes by Barb Matthews to the various depictions of time, place, and the mores of middle-class middle America in the middle of the twentieth century, to the way young siblings fight and make up and fight again, is both universal and unique. Dad can be a bully, yet he teaches his children values that will stand them well in later life. Mom lets Dad dominate until it really, really matters, and then she gets him to do what the rest of the family wants (like going to the Ghost Caves). And Don’s sister constantly harasses him, hitting him and stealing his prized arrowhead. In other words, the Brownings are a stereotypical white middle-class American family comprised of four unique individuals.

“Leaving Iowa” is a surprisingly modest play with laughs galore performed by a troop of skilled actors who throw themselves wholeheartedly into their characters, making them loveable and recognizable despite their many flaws. Many of you will recognize yourself and your family in the Brownings.

This play runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Proof of vaccination is no longer required, but masks are.

Left to right: Jennie Jenks, Anne Tracey, Michael Christopher, and Tom Sanders

“Leaving Iowa”

7:25 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays,
1:55 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 6

Olympia Little Theatre,
1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia


(360) 786-9484

Photos by Melissa Barnes.

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