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Jill Shackner and Karyn Quackenbush          photo by Joan Marcus

                                                  by Barry Bassis

Iowa begins promisingly with a self-possessed little girl, Kolette Tetlow, singing. The promise vanishes when the music ends.

A ditzy divorceé named Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush) suddenly informs her 14-year old daughter Becca (Jill Shackner) that she is going to marry a man she had been communicating with on the internet.

This is part of an incoherent monologue by Sandy, in which she announces that they are moving to Ohio, where she will be married. Her fiancé repeatedly corrects her. It’s Iowa. When she asks what’s in Iowa, he answers, “Corn, cattle, caucuses, me.”

“I’m a sucker for a caucus,” the ever-enthusiastic Sandy exclaims. “Say no more. Enough said.”

When her daughter questions why her mother is getting married when she is going through menopause, Sandy responds: “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.”

Sandy also points out that Becca was adopted and came from Indonesia, which segues into a song about coastal erosion, allegedly a problem there.

It seems unlikely that a compulsive talker like Sandy would have managed to keep so much information from her daughter, but credibility is not one qualities that the playwright is striving for.

In any event, Becca understandably tries to move in with her adoptive father, who is living in London, but that doesn’t work out. Like Sandy, he speaks in non sequiturs.  For example, when Becca informs him, “Mom’s getting married,” he responds, “Married? That’s impossible. My mom’s dead as a doornail. Doornails don’t get married.”

There are many other absurdities, such as a cheerleader (played by Annie McNamara) who wakes up to discover she may have had sex with a pony (Lee Sellars, who plays all the male roles, including Sandy’s first and second husbands and the teacher on whom Becca has a crush). The cheerleader asks the pony if he used a condom and he answers that they don’t make them in his size.

There are also jokes about funny subjects like Auschwitz, date rape and Islam. Sandy orders a Quran on Amazon and a burqua that she gets to wear.  

Becca and Sandy end up in Iowa, where Sandy’s husband has a group of sister wives. Joining a cult doesn’t seem to bother her.

Todd Almond’s music is pleasant and, while the lyrics (penned by him and scriptwriter Jenny Schwartz) don’t make more sense than the rest of the proceedings, at least they present a break from the grating dialogue. Ken Rus Schmoll’s direction failed to salvage the proceedings. The cast, especially Jill Shackner and Kolette Tetlow, deserve better. The accompanying musicians, conductor/pianist J. Oconer Navarro, bass player Brian Ellingsen and Sarah Haines on viola, are exemplary. 

Playwrights Horizons 416 West 42nd Street, 4th floor; 212-279-4200,
(www through May 10th.

Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes but it seems much longer.