Welcome to the first installment of PorchLight Recommends, a blog in which our PorchLight team, and esteemed friends get to rave about their favorite art experiences in Iowa City and surrounding areas.
I’m up first!
Can I first say that it’s a really exciting time for the arts community in Iowa City? PS1 has officially moved into the Close House. Film Scene was awarded an NEA grant. And Riverside Theater has opened (for previews) their first production in their glamorous new downtown digs. Please go and order a glass of wine in their lofted lobby right now. You will feel classy. You will be classy. Especially if you stay for a showing of “Eden Prairie, 1971.”
Over the last month we’ve had the pleasure of hosting Mat Smart, the writer of Eden Prairie, right here at PorchLight. For me, a fiction writer unaccustomed to seeing peoples’ initial reactions to my work, I was fascinated to learn how much Mat was involved in the production and direction of the play. When I saw the play in preview this Saturday he was there in the audience, still deciding pieces to keep or cut. As Eden Prairie’s director Adam Knight pointed out in his introduction to the preview, theater really is a form that grows and changes through audience response.
Maybe this is part of the reason I found the play so engaging. My writerly and midwinter isolation was broken by the physical proximity to the actors and this sense of being a part of a living piece of art. That and the fact that it’s a wonderfully written and directed play. Benjamin Farrar’s set transported me to a nostalgic (but not sentimental) Midwestern backyard the night Apollo 15 lands on the moon. Yet the story, which deals with divided political fronts, made me feel that life was no simpler or easier in 1971 than it is today. The play opens with Pete, a draft dodger played by Kyle Clark, sneaking into this backyard and knocking on the window of his old friend Rachel. Pete is ostensibly there to speak to Rachel about the death of a mutual friend (a would-be dodger who changed his mind at the last minute). It turns out there is more to talk about, and the play mines the rich territory of what it means to take responsibility for oneself. It was a pleasure to watch the central characters miscommunicate, butt up against each other, push each other toward change, and hard choices. Christina Sullivan and Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers are wonderful as mother/daughter foils to each other and to Pete. It was a pleasure to find that the climactic moment (which can be so hard to hit) was subtle yet moving, giving the play a feeling of tight orchestration.
So check it out. Oder a glass of wine. Be transported. And thank me by returning to this blog for our next installment.
P.S. The official opening of Eden Prairie,1971 is this Saturday February 5th https://riversidetheatre.org/eden-prairie-1971/