Road-tripping in the Past, Present and Future

Aaron Denlinger

“For half of it, I’m a normal, well-adjusted, if not slightly disgruntled, individual,” says Aaron Denlinger (’12). “But for the other half, I’m an obnoxious, whiny 10-year-old version of that same character.”

The graphic design major is used to pursuing challenges on stage, but being cast in the role of Don Browning in this summer’s Dessert Theatre production may stretch him more than the nearly two dozen other roles he has played over the past 14 years. Unlike during the academic year, Denlinger has time to get involved in summertime productions. With this year being his fourth and final Dessert Theatre production at Bethel, he took the opportunity to pursue a rather challenging role.

This year’s show “Leaving Iowa,” written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton, revolves around Denlinger’s character Don Browning, a journalist from Boston, who finds himself on a cross-country road trip to find a suitable place to spread his recently-deceased father’s ashes. Browning soon begins reflecting on the many misadventures of his childhood family vacations, which in turn, presents complications for Denlinger.

In order to portray his character accurately, Denlinger must effortlessly switch back and forth between present-day adulthood and his past childhood, despite not having any actual scene or costume changes to help the audience recognize his on-stage time travel.

Though the plot may seem complicated, Denlinger’s comedic, yet sentimental, character takes audience members back to their own childhood to reminisce, in order to help them better relate to the character on a more personal level. This not only helps audience members, but the actors as well, including Denlinger.

“I’ve been on many long road trips with my family out west, so I definitely appreciate the story,” explains Denlinger. “[The show] is essentially a love letter to family road trips and to rural America.”

Denlinger’s character is not the only tricky one in the cast. Besides Denlinger’s three “family members” in the show, two other actors have equally, or perhaps even more complicated, roles. Each of these two actors essentially play the parts of every single person Denlinger’s character meets over the course of his cross-country trip — nearly two dozen different roles between the two actors!

“I think it would have been fun to play all those different parts: everything from a hillbilly farmer to an angry college professor to a grocery store employee to a civil war reenactor,” says Denlinger. “But honestly, I don’t know if I could have pulled off so many different personalities!”

Come see Denlinger in “Leaving Iowa” June 1, 2, 7 and 8 at 8 p.m. and on June 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets for dessert and the performance are $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors. Tickets for the performance only are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. For questions, call 574.807.7080 or order tickets online.

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