The COS production of “Leaving Iowa” takes a comedic and poignant look at a middle-aged writer’s return home, and his subsequent road trip in search of the perfect spot to scatter his father’s ashes.

The COS production of “Leaving Iowa” takes a comedic and poignant look at a middle-aged writer’s return home, and his subsequent road trip in search of the perfect spot to scatter his father’s ashes.

The lead character, Don (played by Thai Roberts), is designated the bearer of his father’s remains. On the road to his destination he reflects upon the summer vacations he spent traveling in the family station wagon with Mom, Dad and Sis, played respectively by Teri Reynolds, Bennett Gale and Mig Windows.

These family vacations are always enthusiastically planned by Dad. With or without the consent of Mom, Don and Sis, he manages to choose vacations that are, in Don’s eyes, even more boring than Winterset, Iowa. Such a trip involved taking the whole family to Hannibal, Missouri.

The story shifts wonderfully and seamlessly from the present reality of Don’s road trip, to the memories of his childhood family vacations. The vacation scenes seem to play like a deeper version of National Lampoon’s Vacation. As Dad points out mile markers and Alaskan license plates, I’m reminded of Clark Griswold taking his family to view the world’s largest ball of twine.

Dad is the stand-out character. Bennet Gale plays the part with such charm and fatherly confidence, that you might be surprised that his children aren’t as enthusiastic about the trip. The way he grips the steering wheel tells you a lot about the character. In Dad, Gale gives you patience, protection, authority and humor that gives the story much of its heart.
Mom is the glue that keeps everyone in the car. Teri Reynold’s comedic timing is near flawless, even as she shouts agreements from offstage.

Mig Windows plays Sis in two ages along with Thai Roberts as Don. Her younger version is daddy’s little princess. She knows exactly how to win her parents’ favor, and irritate her brother at the same time. As middle-aged, her maturity is obvious, but she manages to keep the appropriate level of little princess to sustain her character from the road trips.

Thai Roberts has the same challenge of playing two ages. Splitting his time between his adult and child selves, Roberts crafts unique but similar personalities for both. He tells the story with all the analytical depth you’d expect from a writer.
These comedic retellings of family vacations are punctuated by moments of deep reflection, once the stage clears, and Don is left alone with his thoughts. Missing Dad’s funeral serves as a focal point of deep regret and opportunity for redemption for Don.

As Don reaches his grandparent’s house to scatter the ashes, as requested, he discovers the home replaced by a grocery store. As he sets out on the road again and delves further into the family’s past summer adventure, he manages to reconcile his past with his present at the geographical center of the United States.

During the trips, we run into characters who give the story a sense of American culture, such as Amish farmers who take three years to make pies and a civil war reenactor who steals his scene with his dedication to historical accuracy.

A set of grandparents with crispy treats the size of bricks, a gabby waitress, a short tempered hotel clerk and a host of bit players liven up the road trips with humor and frustration.

The production is set in front of a huge map of Iowa and its surrounding states. The story has something for everyone and is sure to stir up memories of one’s own family vacations.

Remaining performances are scheduled for this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in College of the Siskiyous’ Ford Theater in Weed.

Tickets can be purchased in the Public Information Office on the Weed campus in advance, or at the box office the night of the show. For more information, contact the Theatre Department at 530-938-5257.