We gave it a C+
For the most part, the state of Iowa is pretty much exactly what you expect – corn, acres and acres of land, farms, and not a whole lot more. But the new musical Iowa is not what you’d expect—and not exactly to the show’s benefit. The musical loses focus not long into its 105-minute duration and eventually leaves audience members wondering what happened to the original intentions.
Becca (Jill Shackner) is forced to move to Iowa after her hopelessly naïve, spastic mother Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush) becomes cyber-struck with Roger (Lee Sellars), and accepts a marriage proposal despite her inability to even remember the man’s name. Naturally, one would expect the production to chronicle the mother-daughter pair’s journey and their adjustment to the middle-of-nowhere with some humorously interesting encounters along the way.
After an initially impressive solo by the talented 9-year-old Kolette Tetlow, who plays younger Becca, the following fifteen minutes are an exhausting run of Sandy’s frantically erratic gibberish (An example: “Welcome to womanhood. Nasty nasty. Have a Motrin. Or three. Consider yourself warned. Steer clear of menopause. And peri-menopause. More soon…I’m back. Peri-menopause. Colon. The pits. Insomnia. Night sweats. Exhaustion. Mood swings. Where’s my old self? Question mark. Smiley face.”) All of this is initially entertaining, but too prolonged to keep one’s interest. Then again, it’s the one scene that focuses on Sandy and Roger’s electronic (and slightly maniacal) relationship, so it is a humorous way to gain insight into that—especially since it is the only insight stated in the show’s entirety.
Following the opening scene, a series of disconnected—and very bizarre—events occur, and suddenly we’ve lost sight of the fact that Becca is moving or that Iowa is even involved (much less, that it’s the title of the show). While many aspects feel oddly unrelated, perhaps the most difficult piece to fit into the puzzle is the neighborhood pony (also played by Sellars) that gallops across the stage at any mention of a pony, eventually having his own solo. If audience members haven’t found themselves confused by this point, consider this where the bewilderment really kicks in.
Fortunately, the eight-person cast manages to salvage the disjointed narrative, amusingly portraying the multiple roles several of them are required to fill. The standout is Annie McNamara, who brings an SNL-esque flair to her dialogue, with a comic style not unlike Molly Shannon’s. Quackenbush is also notable, perfectly pulling off the vigorously squirrelly character that is Sandy. In the end, though, the lost opportunities make Iowa sort of like the state itself—fairly disappointing, no matter how hard you try to like it. C+