Mom Theater Blogger: IOWA: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman


Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Playwrights Horizons is presenting the world premiere of IOWA, a new musical play written by Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist Jenny Schwartz (God’s Ear, Somewhere Fun), music by Todd Almond (Stage Kiss at PH, Kansas City Choir Boy, The Tempest, On the Levee) and lyrics by Mr. Almond and Ms. Schwartz. Directed by two-time Obie Award winner Ken Rus Schmoll (Red Dog Howls, Middletown, What Once We Felt), the show is the fifth production of the theater company’s 2014/2015 Season.

Seeing IOWA is like being on a theatrical acid trip…..from stream of consciousness rants that go on for eons to oddball sexual pony humor, the twisted, off the charts tale features everything from a gaggle of Nancy Drews to cheerleaders to singing polygamists.  Some scenes play more like skits, albeit amusing ones, but ultimately add up to absurdist overload on speed. 

The hard-working cast of IOWA, many of whom zeaolusly tackle multiple off-beat roles, features Cindy Cheung, April Matthis, Karyn Quackenbush,  Carolina Sanchez, Lee Sellars, Jill Shackner and Kolette Tetlow. Big comedic nods go to Annie McNamara who draws comparison to Kristen Wigg (of Saturday Night Live fame) in one scene as a cheerleader, and Apirl Matthis as a Black Nancy Drew.

Divorcee Sandy, a frazzled, rambling mom, (Ms. Quackenbush) is smitten with a man she finds on Facebook (who winds up being very much spoken for), and he (Mr. Sellars) lives in Iowa. So 14 year old Becca, her daughter, (Ms. Shackner) is asked to bid farewell to all that she knows — a math teacher who she has a crush on (Mr. Sellars), her bulimic best friend (Ms. Sanchez), a neighborhood pony (Mr. Sellars) and move with her mother.  She reaches out to her father who lives in London, with his now pregnant girlfriend, but he does not embrace Becca’s desire to come overseas.

Ms. Shackner is appealing as Becca. ad Ms. Sanchez morphs well from her best teen friend to other more mature roles, and has a lovely singing voice. Unfortunately, though, the music is nothing to speak — or sing of — and the show grows exhaustive, even though it’s just 90 minutes, no intermission.

I’m all for thinking out of the theatrical box and for stretches of the imagination, but in IOWA, this tall tale might match the height of corn growing in the Iowa fields, but the kernels would score higher at a Farmer’s Market than they play on the stage.

IOWA rus through May 10 at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater (416 West 42nd Street).  Tickets may be purchased online via, by phone at (212) 279-4200 and in person at the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 West 42nd Street (between Ninth & Tenth Avenues).

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