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Center Stage

Letting their hair down

10/22/2014

“Girls’ Weekend,” Des Moines Playhouse. Oct. 17 - Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Wed. - Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.

“Girls’ Weekend,” Des Moines Playhouse. Oct. 17 – Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Wed. – Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.

The title says it is all about the girls. The standout performance comes from Nancy Zubrod as a “woman of a certain age” who is nonetheless party-hearty. Yet the essence of the hilarity onstage at the Playhouse might turn up in one of the men.

This would be Cody Schug, as Stephen, the son of Zubrod’s character, Dot. Dot is hosting a multi-generational getaway, and he is not invited. But while the son is grown, he is hardly grown up. He has crashed the party for the sake of an age-inappropriate love affair with Dot’s best friend Meg. Meg, however, won’t be caught with her pants down — unlike a couple of the others here. Ripely embodied by Rebecca Scholtec, she melts into a kiss or two, but then shows some spine. She scolds her secret boyfriend: “You’re a child.” At which Schug jumps up on the center-stage sofa. He bounces and flounces, as crazy as Tom Cruise on “Oprah.”

It is a terrific irony, and only the first of the physical bits. Schug’s forever squirreling himself away, even under the bed. Yes, there is a bed in a guestroom visible to the audience, part of Kevin Shelby’s well-conceived set. Dot’s Minnesota “cabin” suggests a converted farmhouse in which every add-on is a cubbyhole in for mischief to hatch. As complications mount (romantic mostly, but snarled further by May snow), the window at the back allows for a number of visual gags. These include the ending, exquisitely screwball — in every sense of “screw.”

Then there is the ratta-tat dialog, served up with the brio of women who have gotten together to let their hair down: “What’s wrong with your old friends?” “My husband got ’em in the divorce.” There’s Zobrod’s black-eyed stare, at once worldly and looneytunes, she seems to dominate the proceedings even when passed out in the closet. Better yet, Zobrod and the other veterans have clearly coached the debut performer, Kaci Conetzkey. As the twenty-something Ellie, Conetzky earns her yucks. I loved to watch her wrestle — elbows flying — over the baggie of pot.

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It is uproarious and another city production without a single weak principal — and I haven’t even gotten to the best part. “Girl’s Weekend” is also homegrown, the first full-length drama by the Iowa Public Television employee Karen Schaeffer.

Schaeffer began as an actress, winning one of the Playhouse awards. She first tried out writing at an experimental venture run through Des Moines Performing Arts. Following a couple of one-acts and children’s pieces, she brought “Weekend” to the Playhouse early in 2013, where it was staged as one of the monthly readings. Shortly afterwards, preparations for a full production got underway, and throughout the process, Schaeffer kept a hand in. During the talk before last weekend’s show, she revealed that the production was getting tweaked right though the final rehearsal. Winning theater always takes a group effort, but it is rarely so rewarding as when everyone is close by.

Overheard in the Lobby: For Halloween, Iowa Shakespeare Experience is again running its “Dracula” show. CV

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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