Iowa premiere leads enticing shows on the horizon9/6/2023
This column has covered the arduous path that Tallgrass Theatre Company has traveled to replant its creative roots into West Des Moines. Forced to move from its original home in the Rex Mathes school and coping with the pandemic, its diligent search for a new performing space was finally rewarded. Its black box performing space is flexible and will accommodate the company’s reinvigorated growth.
Any analogy of a “little engine that could” should be replaced with “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” Why? Tallgrass brought a vibrant electricity to the pastoral Jamie Hurd Amphitheatre setting with its annual Broadway concert series. Its unique Sarah Frank and Jack Balcombe Dream Project and its hosting of the popular monthly Broadway Karaoke are some of its noteworthy accomplishments. This company earned 13 Cloris Awards nominations this past season (awards not announced by deadline; to see how Tallgrass and other companies fared at the 2023 awards, check out the winners at www.clorisawards.org).
No laurels-resting here, their 2023-2024 season is a powerfully eclectic one, featuring the Iowa premiere of Karen Schaeffer’s new farce, “Temporary Insanity,” her 10th published play. Her works have been produced locally to internationally. Her penchant for snappy dialogue, masterful story pacing, and strong women characters fills performing halls with gales of laughter at her comedic mastery. Audiences are salivating at the chance to feast on this new comedic Karen Schaeffer offering, and Tallgrass will host this rib-tickling theatrical banquet.
“I consider the premise of ‘Temporary Insanity’ to be a little more zany than previous productions,” the playwright shares. She pulled from a family experience, when “our son Jon was hypnotized. I kept thinking, ‘What would happen if someone was stuck in a hypnotic suggestion?’ From there, I developed ‘Temporary Insanity.’ ”
Directing this show is a veteran of radio, stage and a myriad of other expressions of his talents. Maxwell Schaeffer takes the leadership reins and admits a bit of heat in the process.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling some pressure directing Karen’s work,” Maxwell explains. “It’s a bit like she baked me a glorious five-layer cake and asked me to balance it on my head while doing a buck and wing tap dance.”
Any directorial stage fright quickly melts, as he shares an advantage.
“I’ve been there observing each step of Karen’s writing process. I read the drafts, witnessed the various readings in our home, and we shared many conversations about the play. Add 40-plus years of learning who this playwright is and what makes her tick!”
This dynamic one-two creative punch, delivered by a cast with exceptional central Iowa talent, is sure to leave its audiences in a euphoric, post-comedic workout state of bliss. It “jumps right into the fast-paced story and maintains its pace throughout the play. It’s a workout for the actors,” describes Karen. “Also, it continues my focus on female-driven comedies with women of various ages and stages of life.”
It sounds as if the insanity delivered will leave a permanent and positive mark.
But wait — there’s more. New seasons awaiting new audiences.
Other early season highlights include the Des Moines Community Playhouse’s “Once,” the much-anticipated musical that captivated Broadway, winning 8 Tony Awards out of 11 nominations, opening Sept. 8. Iowa Stage Theatre Company balances the Tallgrass and Playhouse shows with the “deadly serious comedy” of “Athena.” Ankeny Community Theatre closes September with “The Addams Family,” a zany musical sure to delight young and old alike.
Around this time of the year, theatre companies are launching their 2023-2024 seasons. Des Moines Performing Arts is back at full steam, from its Willis Broadway Series to its Temple Shows (Comedy, Music and more), its dance series as well as many other offerings. The Des Moines Playhouse offers children’s theatre and the return of The Penguin Project. CAP Theatre continues its tradition of engaging students through their musicals. Iowa Stage Theatre Company again offers its traditional holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.” Carousel Theatre of Indianola brings three shows to its next season. Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre has yet to share its future plans.
Add Ballet Des Moines with its exceptional programming, the Des Moines Symphony, Hoyt Sherman Place Theatre, Civic Music Association, and the always irresistible Des Moines Metro Opera, and performing arts patrons will have a year-round cultural cornucopia from which to choose. Embrace the role of cultural adventurer this coming season, and try a couple of new venues, new experiences. The journey will be well worth it. ♦
John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.