Review by Daniel Dunlow
14 April 2015
Where do you begin? The basics, I suppose.
This new social commentary musical play, iOW@, that just opened at Playwrights Horizons is a hybrid child of theatre that at first glance appears like Suzan-Lori Parks meets David Mamet on speed – and oh, that child has a beautiful, strong, poetic, and potent genetic make-up. Complete with stylized modern song and dance, prancing pony-men, and text that goes so fast that you feel like you're at the Daytona 500 of the theatre, this play is a mental exercise that leaves the audience nothing but speechless and loving every second of it.
Allow me to briefly recap it’s aspects, but know that the sum of it’s parts are only a percentage of it’s over-all wonder.
Written by Jenny Schwartz, this play challenges the audience to look at their use of media and willingness to offer part of their humanity to machine, while examining the alternatives we have to this way of life. It is not shallow in doing this. It is refreshing, entertaining and constantly presents the audience with moments that literally made multiple audience members simultaneously say aloud “What?!” Like that time the aforementioned “pony-man” held my date’s hand and serenaded her.
The music in the musical play by Todd Almond sounded like it was cut from If/Then. It served the play well in it’s nonsensical delivery, but it’s nothing to run to iTunes over.
The lyrics are as flighty and as topically nonsensical as the narrative and serve the story very well. Do not run out of the theatre when they begin singing a song entitled “Coastal Erosion;” It’s all for a higher purpose.
The music direction by J. Oconer Navarro was brilliant. He harnessed the voiced he had in the cast and translated this “metaphoric” music beautifully onto the stage. The repetition of the word “Iowa” in fast triplet form was a wonderful moment that his craft shines. Just go see it and you’ll understand.
The direction by Ken Rus Schmoll was stylistic; and be not afraid, ye lovers of Susan Stroman – Stylistic in a way that is pleasant to the ear. The acting may have seemed glib and non-existent (that’s me and Kevin Spacey’s favorite tactic of performance), but it was a “get-the-hell-out-of-the-way-and-say-these-beautiful-words” kind of style. It was beautiful. Bravo on being brave in the theatre. Also, bravo on a diverse cast.
The design, like the acting gets out of the way of the words that are meant to shine in this production.
Performances, were spot on across the board. Specific bravos out to the young and very talented Jill Shackner, the skilled and perfect Karyn Quackenbush, the radiant Lee Sellars, and hilarious Annie McNamara.
GO SEE THIS. Words cannot capture this gem to society, but seeing it can.
"Aiming for the endearingly zany, the new musical 'Iowa' overshoots the runway, landing somewhere in the vicinity of complete inanity."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks seems to be the approach in this abstract play with music."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Iowa’s satirical cartoonishness is captured splendidly in Ken Rus Schmoll’s staging, and the cast of eight sustains a remarkable tone of committed absurdism."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
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