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Center Stage

‘Dead Man’s Curve’ makes Des Moines debut at Kirkwood Theatre


Andrew Buenger and Ben Fry perform a scene from “Dead Man’s Curve,” which runs through Oct. 6 at the Kruidenier Center at Central College in Pella, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5, $3 for students and senior citizens and free with a Central College ID. The play comes to the Des Moines Social Club on Oct. 12 and 13. Admission is $10 and $7 for students and senior citizens. Expect adult situations and explicit language.

The pressures of supporting a wife and a newborn baby can lead to unintended consequences. For Bob Leonard, a doctor of anthropology, it meant taking on a night-shift job as a cab driver in Albuquerque, N.M., as an interesting way to help make ends meet. Little did he realize the episodes of tragedy, horror and unavoidable humor he would encounter on the job — an eclectic collection of anecdotes that almost write themselves into the subsequent book that followed: “Yellow Cab,” based on the true stories and real people Leonard was exposed to as a cab driver.

“Being an anthropologist and a cab driver, I’m the only guy I know that can say to his wife, ‘I was talking to this hooker last night,’ and have her say, ‘Oh, what did she say?,’ ” Leonard said.

Ann Wilkinson, instructor of theatre at Central College in Pella, read “Yellow Cab” and decided to adapt it into a play that was renamed “Dead Man’s Curve.”

“Bob is an anthropologist. When he records a story, he really, truly is not judgmental. He just writes down who these people are,” Wilkinson said. “And I looked at that and thought, ‘What a wonderful study of humanity for my kids (acting students) to get a chance to work on.’ ”

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Instead of a linear plot and a few main characters, “Dead Man’s Curve” is structured as a series of vignette glimpses of the invisible people who roam the streets while the rest of the world sleeps.

“I met these people. Some of them became friends. I saw how they wound up,” Leonard said. “Some of them just made dumb decisions, some of them got too involved with drugs and alcohol and some of them never had a shot at all.”

During the casting of “Dead Man’s Curve,” Wilkinson made sure to talk to the actors individually to make sure they were comfortable performing the play’s adult situations and content.

“Central College is a very small-town, collegiate setting. And this is not what we’re examining in these stories,” she said.

All 15 members of the cast play multiple roles in order to cover the wide canvas of humanity portrayed within the script. From businessmen to prostitutes, drug dealers to drunken college students, “Dead Man’s Curve” takes each individual on his or her own terms and pulls no punches in its depiction of life in the city after hours.

“When I write something, all of the harsh parts are softened by great gaps of description,” Leonard said. “But in the theater, what (Wilkinson) has done is in your face and intense. It’s a much more powerful piece than the book ever was. She’s done a great job.” CV

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