Wilde Theatre’s ‘Leaving Iowa’ comes home in Brighton
BRIGHTON, Mich.–As soon as the temperatures start to increase and the days get longer, the unofficial start of summer begins with the new summer theatrical season. Plays and performances begin to pop up anywhere and everywhere to entertain the public in the warmer nights. Plays find audiences in outdoor amphitheaters, parks, barns, and even dare I say…coffee shops?
Granted, The Wilde Theatre making its home inside The Brighton CoffeeHouse and Theater in downtown Brighton is not just a summer venue. Lynn Wilde, a well-known director in the Michigan theatre community is breaking out on her own with The Wilde Theatre. It just happened to find a home inside The Brighton Coffeehouse and Theater or BCAT for short.
The BCAT recently opened with this hyped shared concept of caffeine and
performances. The 4,900 square foot space offers a moveable stage and
versatile seating areas, as well as a baby grand piano and a staircase that
leads to extra rooms for rehearsals, workshops, and various acting space
entrances and exits. The Wilde Theatre Company is claiming this space for four shows a year.
Leaving Iowa written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton is their second show in their very first inaugural season. This show definitely has a summer feel.
Even though June 21 is the first day of summer, thoughts of summer actually begin with Memorial Day weekend as families start spending
more time together picnicking, barbecuing, and outdoor activities. Schools
close their doors and families start planning their summer vacations.
Family vacation. The worst “F word,” according to Don, (Sean Heslip) as he
relives his family summer road trips as he deals with a task that no child
ever wants to do: Find a proper resting place for his father’s ashes.
Leaving Iowa opens the window to the typical family issues that just might
make make many audience members nostalgic or think the writers must have been spying inside their own childhood homes and car trips. I swear that when sis said, “Daddy I love you,” to convince Dad to stop to see an
expensive roadside cavern attraction, I too, could have swore I was looking
into my own family’s past. Angela Dill as mom, Tony Amato as Dad, Katy
Kujala as sis and Sean Heslip as the son/brother Don, mesh incredibly well
together as a family unit. They argue, fight, take sides, all the while
blending in and out of the present and the past all with hat/no hat and
pigtails to ponytail to show the passage of time.
Audience fan-favorites seems to be the multi-character guy (Nick Szczerba) and multi-character gal (Dana Blaszkowski). They could just enter the stage
and the audience would start laughing. Both played many different
characters, from pig farmers, to wait staff, to civil war reenactors, to
grandparents, and even mechanics. Their multitude of costume changes and character changes added an element of who will they come out as next
surprise to the show.
Even though the show is obviously a comedy, it has a bit of a dark tragic
side to it as well. Don feels the guilt of not really having the best
relationship with his father and feels that he needs to finalize the resting place of his dad’s ashes. When he finds that his grandparents’ place was turned into a grocery store parking lot, Don searched in his memories for the perfect family vacation memory that would include a beautiful location to bury the ashes.
Even if Don feels like his Dad loved his sister more than him, Tony Amato as
Dad definitely shows in his facial expressions and behaviors that he did
really love his son. Most of the present tense journey Don takes is in the
car alone with his Dad’s ashes. But it wasn’t the urn in the scenes with
him. No. Tony Amato was right in the car there with Don as a ghostly silent
passenger, watching his son with all the love and devotion that Don never
felt as a child.
So, even though Tony had many scenes from past family vacations and
hilarious lines that all fathers seem to say, it was his silent moments in
the present time that take your breath away.
With the Coffeehouse’s moveable stage, it was simply set with a small
lower level near the staircase. The set consisted of 4 simple stools,
but they worked very well as the actors moved them from being used as the
car, to an audience area, to a restaurant. Wilde’s direction of the car
scenes, even with these simple stools, really brings the audience into the old family station wagon road trip. The staging utilizes all aspects of entrances and exits. The staircase to the upper rooms is often used as actual front porches of the various places the family visited on their slew of family vacations outside of Wintersett, Iowa.
Wilde announced in the opening speech that new lighting equipment was
purchased before this production. The lighting, even in the small space,
is handled creatively: Flashbulbs from old cameras, car lighting from
oncoming trucks, and just asides that needed a separate moment, were
perfectly timed by lighting and sound director Don Baschal.
Leaving Iowa should really be called “Finding Home” because Don really does find his family connection again. “Getting here has been some kind of
damned adventure,” Don says near the very end of the play. I can just bet
that Mrs. Wilde feels the same way about her new theatre company too.
This show was sold out during the first weekend. It runs through June 9 and tickets are limited and need to be purchased in advance online. It’s a shame that it doesn’t run Father’s Day. This would be the perfect show for sons and
fathers to see together or even families that have experienced the long car
trips across the state.
If you’ve ever said or heard the phrase, “That’s it! I’m stopping this car and coming back there!” you will definitely find the hilarity in this production.