Clue and Manton are first-time playwrights coming from radio and TV land, so perhaps this is a trial run for something with a little more depth. They have a grasp of scriptwriting techniques that have sunk other beginners: they know how to pace scenes, how to write dialogue that can be understood, how and when to introduce characters. But this was not a good choice of subject for a first attempt. You have to know where you're going with this material the suffocatingly bland nuclear families of the period because their story has already repeated itself as comedy, as tragedy, and as farce more times than anyone cares to count. For instance, Rice Krispies Treats stopped being the boomer private Proustian madeleine decades ago: you buy them now at the gas station, gigantic, factory made, with barcodes stamped on them. Leaving Iowa doesn't pretend to be more than a warm comedy, but it didn't warm me. It seemed merely a labored re-creation of a few weeks of a hyperconventional family's life.
I am happy to report that the playwrights do courageously break one long-standing rule of comedy. As we all know, when Dad's ashes are transported in an urn, someone is supposed to steal them, open the urn expectantly, and exclaim "What the ?!" This does not happen.
[Originally published in March, 2004.]
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