Liberty’s theatre department showcases Clue and Manton’s comedic ‘Leaving Iowa’

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

Liberty University’s theatre arts department is performing “Leaving Iowa,” a comedy that encapsulates this idea about life’s journey, the thrill of family road trips and the heart of nostalgia. As the play reflects upon the past and the memories associated with it, audience members embark on a road trip of their own, reflecting upon the ups and downs, detours and unexpected moments that shape life. Blending humor with heartfelt moments, “Leaving Iowa” creates a theatrical experience that resonates with the audience long after the curtain falls.

Written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton, “Leaving Iowa” is a comedic play that recounts the journey of a middle-aged writer named Don Browning. The play transitions between Browning’s past family road trips in American flyover states and his present mission to scatter his father’s ashes at the perfect spot in his Iowa childhood hometown.  Narrated through a series of flashbacks, audience members will be able to recall the experiences of a classic family road trip.

“Leaving Iowa” features a captivating set that immerses the audience, making them feel as though they are also a part of the road trip. The centerpiece of the set is a classic wood-paneled station wagon with a cutout roof that invites viewers inside the car. There are a myriad of stage effects such as a working horn and lights that breathe life into the story and ensure that viewers stay engaged.

The stage is decorated with postcards hung from the ceiling, setting the scene for this traveling family. Before the characters narrate their experiences in the show, viewers can visually witness some of the places they have visited.

Corn stalks line the stage, providing a visual indication of the character’s rural location. Lighting effects intricately capture the time of day, serving as a visual cue for both past and present scenes.

The costumes feature an abundance of flannel button-ups and blue jeans, accurately complementing the production’s road trip theme.

The six-person cast skillfully narrates the expansive story, with four actors adeptly portraying the past and present lives of Browning’s family. Additionally, two actors — one male and one female — skillfully take on a variety of different characters who interact with the Brownings throughout the performance.

 “The joy we brought to people has definitely been the most rewarding part of ‘Leaving Iowa,’” Kiser Shelton, an actor who played 13 different roles in the production, said.

Anyone who has ever traveled cross-country with their family will relate to the discomfort that comes with the confines of a car and can laugh at how these situations play out for the characters. With a combination of flashbacks and the family’s inherent unpredictability, attendees can enjoy the show.

“I had this older woman come up and talk to me after we opened. First, she shook my hand and she thanked me for the show, and then she said, ‘I just really needed a laugh, and you guys brought that to me.’ At the end of the day, that’s such a beautiful thing that we get to give to people,” Shelton said.

For many actors at Liberty, performances such as “Leaving Iowa” serve as touching reminders for the reasons they pursue acting.

“I think the most beautiful part about acting here at Liberty, and specifically through ‘Leaving Iowa,’ has been that I’ve learned how to live more fully as a person and enjoy every aspect of life. I find myself stopping more often to look at random things. … I’ve found that the best actors are usually the most alive people. My performance in ‘Leaving Iowa’ is nothing short of this appreciation,” Caleb Gilmore, who played “Dad” in “Leaving Iowa,” said.

“Leaving Iowa” will be showing Dec. 2-10 in the Black Box Theater at various times. For more information, visit this website.

Solem is the asst. feature editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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