The memories of my youth are filled with hours spent in the car on family road trips. Each year after the final school bell rang, we would leave the comforts of suburban Chicago and head for far-reaching places like the Baseball Hall of Fame or the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Along the way, we played endless hours of the license-plate game and car bingo as we watched the scenery of our vast country roll by. These memories have provided me with a postcard, not only of America, but of my family’s development into a unit that laughs together, explores together and utters “Are we there yet?” together.
“Leaving Iowa,” the latest production by the Evergreen Players, has gathered these collective memories of Middle America road trips and packaged them in a funny and heartwarming show that deals with family and the joys and experiences that bind us together.
“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. But when Don discovers Grandma’s house is now a grocery store, he begins traveling across Iowa searching for a proper resting place.
Don ends up on a two-day journey across the Midwest, trying to find the right place to bring his father home. All the while, his memories take him back to the minutiae of his own family car trips. A cast of six tackles these jumps between modern day and 1980s Middle America.
Don (played by Cody Schuyler) and Sis (played by Whitney Nuchols) flip back and forth between their adult and child selves with aplomb. The actors manage to craft unique personalities for each of their characters while showing the audience the connection between the younger and older selves. Marilyn Herrs and Gary Webster play Don’s mother and father. Sean Maslow and Maggy Stacy fill in the cast of characters the family meets during their road trip. Maslow and Stacy bring to life stiff historical re-enactors and the folks who work in small-town cafes along the way.
Director Scott Ogle has enjoyed working with the Evergreen Players in various ways over the past decade. He serves on the board of directors; directed several shows, including the award-winning "Down the Road," "Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged," "Sylvia" and others; acted in a few shows; and currently is the director and founding troupe member of EPiC the Evergreen Players' Improv Comedy group. Ogle has an M.A. in theater direction from the Chicago School of the Performing Arts and spends his days at Chatfield Senior High School running its theater program and nights as a dad/husband to Mandi and Calvin.
“I first saw the show ‘Leaving Iowa’ in Chicago with my wife,” Ogle says. “Both of us are originally from Iowa, so naturally it seemed like a good fit for us. But the show wasn't about what we had originally thought. It's more of a love song to the Midwest (Iowa in particular), old-school car trip vacations, and how one man, a father, needed a little help from his son to find a way to be at peace — which required leaving Iowa.”
Since seeing the original production, Ogle has a son of his own, and the show’s message about family and, specifically, father-son relationships has taken on new meaning for the young dad. Ogle is also proud to have helped “father” two of the cast members, Schuyler and Stacy, who were students at Chatfield High.
To further pay homage to Ogle’s Iowa roots and those of many in Colorado, the players have dreamed up a “Leaving Iowa” contest. At each of the shows, the Players will take a poll of those who graduated from an Iowa college. The attendees from the college with the most graduates at the show who are over 21 will receive a complimentary Yoohoo-tini, the show’s secret drink. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.evergreenplayers.org.
Presented by the Evergreen Players
At Center/Stage Theatre, 27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen
March 15 through April 7; Sunday, March 17, is sold out.
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. (no performances Easter weekend, March 29-31)
Tickets: $16 to $20. To purchase tickets, call 303-674-4934 or visit www.evergreenplayers.org.