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GEP takes the stage with ‘Leaving Iowa’

Jim Harsma (left) fills in the role of Dad during Monday night rehearsal for the Green Earth Players fall production, “Leaving Iowa.” He is joined by Mom, played by D.J. Leuthje and (back) Sis, played by Anissa Hanson and Don Browning, portrayed by Shane Amborn. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

LUVERNE — With Mom at the wheel, Dad in the passenger seat telling Mom how to drive and the kids fighting over baseball caps and arrowheads in the back seat, the memories of road trips make one wonder why we ever subjected ourselves to such family vacations.

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In the Green Earth Players’ fall production, “Leaving Iowa.” lead character Don Browning (portrayed by Shane Amborn) reminisces about those seemingly disastrous family trips in a play that has him alternating between his days as a teenage boy and his life now, as an adult trying to come to terms with the loss of his father.

Lest one think this production is filled with sadness, director Shawn Kinsinger said that certainly isn’t the case.

“It’s a comedy. It tugs at the heart, but there are plenty of laughable moments in there,” he said.

In little more than a week, the Green Earth Players will take to the stage of the Palace Theatre in Luverne to present the first of six performances. Tickets go on sale Friday at the Carnegie Cultural Center, and may be reserved by calling (507) 283-8294. Friday and Saturday performances on Nov. 15-16 and Nov. 22-23 begin at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 and Nov. 24.

A cast of eight fills the rolls of the Browning family and multiple other characters they meet along the way.

As Kinsinger shares, the story focuses on Don Browning, who grew up in Iowa and moved to Boston to pursue a career as a writer.

“In the process of moving away, he didn’t get a chance to speak with his dad as much as he wanted to,” Kinsinger said.

Browning returns to Iowa three years after his father’s death to discover the ashes in a container, sitting in the basement. At that point, he decides he’s going to take a road trip to his grandparents’ farm to spread his dad’s ashes. Along the way, however, he gets sidetracked by a crazy mechanic, an unassuming café worker and a drunken woman, to name just a few.

“Through the trip, he relives family vacations from when he was a kid,” Kinsinger added. “It’s pretty much an equal balance of misadventures on the drive and reliving the vacations.

“I like the combination of making everyone laugh, but there’s a hook on the end that makes you think and feel. I like shows that are able to do that,” he said.

Joining Amborn in the cast are Aaron B. Larson (Dad), D.J. Luethje (Mom), Anissa Hanson (Sis) and multi-character roles played by Jim Harsma, Shelby Vickery, Katie Walgrave and Cleo Hilding.

Amborn is a veteran of the Green Earth Players productions — this being his 15th as an actor (he co-directed ‘Don’t Hug Me’ several years ago).

In “Leaving Iowa”, Amborn has the “interesting challenge” of alternating between the young and the older Don Browning, but said it has been a neat experience.

“The scenes with the family are so much fun — arguing and talking over each other,” he said. Scenes of family squabbles in the car, he said, are hoped to resonate with the audience.

Like Amborn, many of the cast members are returning to the Palace Theatre stage in “Leaving Iowa.” There are, however, some new faces — including Cleo Hilding of Sioux Falls, S.D.

Hilding is one of the multi-character actors in the production — portraying 5½ characters, she said with a laugh.

“I’ve been acting since I was 4 years old,” Hilding said, adding that the characters she plays in “Leaving Iowa” remind her of real-life people.

“I’ve met these people,” she said. “Some of us have an Aunt Phyllis. That’s the best part!”

“Leaving Iowa,” written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton, was first performed Jan. 22, 2004, at the Purple Rose Theater Co. in Chelsea, Mich.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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