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IOWA  THEATRE BLOG (6 August 2011)

“Mystery at the Country Fair-Sweet as Pie”

by Rachel Brown

Iowa City – Android GPS is only as smart as you tell it to be. So, if for some reason you manage to type in the wrong address, it seems likely that you will find yourself on the wrong side of the city looking for a farm that just isn’t there. The show was a minute from starting as I finally arrived at the farm where Mystery at the County Fair was being held. With a sigh of relief and a silent “Thank You” to the sky for letting the rain stop, I took my seat in front of the large wrap-around porch decorated in American flags and patriotic paraphernalia. It was a step right back to the county fairs of my youth.

Writers Kate Aspengren, Mary Vasey and Janet Shlapkohl brought to life a glimpse of rural Iowa tradition and tailored their work to the lives and memories of anyone who has knowledge of small town life and county fairs. The characters are people that could have been pulled right out of my own head. They were relatable, realistic and funny!

Throw in some adorable goats and there are more than enough laughs and “awwws’ to last all evening.

There were many actors in the show who were just a blast to watch. Mary Vasey, playing Nancy, the wife of the fair organizer. With her slowly emptying bottle of hard cider, she showed a feisty, down-to-earth view of life. Rip Russell and Kathy Maxey, who played 2 Hollywood TV producers in search of Americas Best County Fair, wandered into the first scene much like myself, with unusable GPS-enabled cell phones.

They each gave their best to play the out of place “city folk” Katherine Smith as Agnes Lola Hammer – always second best – showed her character’s sweetness and frustration as she struggled to understand why she was destined to be the runner-up in everything she endeavored.

This is the first time I have ever experienced this particular style of show. Each scene was played at a different location around the farm and as the actors moved through the farm the audience followed. We were led to each destination by a barbershop style quintet. The intermittent music in this show was enjoyable and fitting. Several of the main characters were given small songs to sing during each scene, adding a nice variety to the show and keeping the audience entertained and on our toes.

This is a short show, shorter than I expected, and I found this refreshing! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a 3-hour musical as much as the next thespian but I don’t feel that every piece of theatre needs to be long and complicated to be enjoyable. There weren’t any unnecessary scenes to draw out the action, the characters all rounded out their purposes and the audience got an hour-long slice of theatre – forgive the expression – sweeter than apple pie.

With only one more show Saturday August 6th at 7:00PM, I highly recommend you take an hour of your evening and drive out to see this great little show. Mystery at the County Fair is playing at 3418 Osage st SW, Iowa city, just a short drive off of Hwy 1. Tickets are available at the gate and more information about Combined Efforts Theatre can be found at www.combinedefforts.org.

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