“Iowa” is like spaghetti.
Throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks seems to be the approach in this abstract play with music.
Unfortunately, little sticks.
Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond must be very confused. Wellman is almost universally praised for this kind of thing. But Schwartz and Almond's get trashed by Isherwood in the NYTimes:
The scatterbrained and self-involved Sandy doesn’t really take in much. Minutes later she continues her mother-daughter talk with this stream of unconsciousness, after Becca glumly wonders why her mother is planning marriage when she’s going through menopause. Answers Sandy: “Perimenopause. Sad face. One can still get pregnant. As long as one still gets one’s period. Are you writing this down? Becca? Need a pen? Lesson Two. Your body will betray you. Embrace it. Delete. Don’t let yourself go. Men are very visual. You wouldn’t understand. You’re a lesbian. Lucky duck. I have a wedgie. Don’t gloat. Moms can too wear hot pants. Says me. That’s who.”
Given Sandy’s attention-span problem, it’s hardly surprising that she announces she and Becca will be moving to Ohio, only to have Roger pipe up that it’s actually Iowa. “What’s in Iowa?” the bewildered Sandy asks.
“Corn, cattle, caucuses, me,” comes the answer.
“I’m a sucker for a caucus,” barks Sandy. “Say no more. Enough said.”
Rather more than enough, really. It’s only a few minutes into “Iowa,” which is directed at a choppy pace by Ken Rus Schmoll, that Ms. Schwartz’s babbling dialogue, delivered at warp speed, begins to grate. You also wonder why the sensitive, sensible Becca hasn’t had her mother locked up in a mental institution, since her endless narcissistic chatter tends to fly off in crazy directions.
In a conversation with Becca’s best friend, Amanda (Carolina Sanchez), Sandy delivers a nonsensical meditation on Islam, ordering Becca to buy her a burqa. “Try Amazon,” she says. “Dot-com. I said, a burqa. And while you’re at it, get me a Quran. Preferably paperback.” (Later she actually starts calling Becca burqa, and vice versa.)
Nor, alas, is Sandy the only absent-minded blatherer in Becca’s life. When Becca announces she’s not moving to Iowa, but would rather go to London, where her father, Jim (Lee Sellars), lives, he evinces a similar inability to focus. When she tells him, “Mom’s getting married,” he answers in mystification, “Married? That’s impossible. My mom’s dead as a doornail. Doornails don’t get married.”
If you had told me this incoherence and cutesy-wootsey wordplay was written by Mac Wellman I would have believed it - this is just his style. Why the critics would universally praise Wellman for this kind of thing and nobody else is a mystery of the theater. Although few are as harsh about IOWA as the NYPost: Off-Broadway’s ‘Iowa’ is nothing but a flyover play.
Whenever I hear that lyric: "hey busdriver, keep the change, bless your children give them names" I always think of my ex-boyfriend John quipping "as opposed to what, numbers?"