ON THEATER: 'Leaving Iowa' will stir nostalgia

Up until now, Winterset, Iowa’s primary claim to fame was that it was there on May 26, 1907, that Marion Michael Morrison was born. If you’re not familiar with that name, try the one he adopted — which now is the handle of Orange County’s airport.

Next weekend, the Laguna Playhouse will lift the curtain on the West Coast premiere of a play set in that municipality, “Leaving Iowa” by Tim Clue and Spike Manton.

Possibly to maintain its authenticity, co-author Clue is directing.

“Leaving Iowa,” which runs through Dec. 14, is billed as a “sentimental comedy” about a journalist who returns to his Winterset home to find a final resting place to his father’s ashes.

This journey triggers flashback-staged memories of his summer vacations as a boy trapped in the family station wagon on the way to uninteresting historical sites with a well-meaning but naive father.

It’s a change of pace of sorts for Clue, who started out in show business as a stand-up comedian, an occupation he continues to practice, though he has an MFA degree in directing and acting.

After he and Manton wrote “Leaving Iowa,” they weren’t quite satisfied with their product. As Clue recalls, “We hated it right off the bat and rewrote it 100 times. That’s where our writing chops are. We’re good writers but great rewriters.”

The end result was nominated for “best new play” by the American Theater Critics Assn. when it premiered at Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, MI. Daniels, you may recall, starred in Woody Allen’s movie “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

“The Purple Rose Theater produces and develops new works,” Clue says. “It’s a development and creative experience for Midwestern works.”

The author-director believes his play will strike a familiar chord with its audiences.

“Who hasn’t been in their car, heard a song on the radio, and is suddenly transported back to a specific time and place?” he asks rhetorically. “That’s what I want this play to do. It’s a time capsule that needs to be captured both humorously and sincerely at the same time.”

“Leaving Iowa” is, its creator promises, “guaranteed to keep you laughing and remembering the childhood vacations you tried to forget.”

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.

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