For Robbie Hill in ‘Leaving Iowa,’ a Fresno Pacific road trip followed by a real one after graduation

Fresno Pacific University theater audiences love their comedies and have asked for more. This season, professor Mark Tyler Miller was happy to oblige.

“We did ‘Emma’ last spring and people loved it,” he says. “I thought it would be fun to do something even more slapstick and immersive.”

Pictured above: Robbie Hill, far right, stars as Don in ‘Leaving Iowa.’ Photo: Fresno Pacific University

His pick was the family vacation comedy “Leaving Iowa,” now in its opening weekend at the university. It plays for two more performances this weekend (7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17) and 7 p.m. Nov. 21-23 in the North Hall Seminary Chapel on the university’s main campus. Spike Manton and Tim Clue’s play follows one son’s journey to reconcile his relationship with his father. Don Browning goes on a road trip to find the perfect place to spread his father’s ashes. Along the way, he remembers all the times he spent with his father, mother and sister on family road trips growing up.

Fresno Pacific student Robbie Hill plays Don, the reminiscing son. He took time to answer a few questions about the show:

Q: Tell us about your character.


A: Don is a young writer living in Boston trying to escape his past. He’s a timid guy, but knows how to get his point across when he needs to. After losing his father, Don sort of distanced himself from his family and his home town of Winterset, Iowa. During the show, he tries to heal the relationship between the Browning family, but most importantly, he wants to reconcile with his father even though he’s already passed away. For Don, this show is a chance to prove that he’s become a man, just like his dad taught him.

Q: The show is a comedy. How does it handle the fact that it’s about spreading a father’s ashes?

A: Great question. The randomness of the show definitely helps break up the dramatic elements of the script. My cast-mates Drew Anderson and Madison Alley are playing multiple characters who appear throughout the show. One of them is a one-armed hog farmer, another is a sleezy Amish salesman. Their over-the-top and ridiculous personalities bring so much fast-paced comedy to the show that you almost forget the seriousness of the plot.

Q: Do you have any family road-trip stories to tell?

A This isn’t technically a “family” road-trip story, but this is a story about a road trip I took with some buddies from high school. We were on our way to Cayucos for spring break during our senior year of high school. Great combination, right? On the way there, we hit some bad traffic. To be exact, it was two overturned semis that were holding back the traffic. Since we were going to be stuck there for a while, I decided to get out of the car and get some drinks from the trunk. Then, I wondered if anyone else trapped in this traffic jam was thirsty. Long story short: My friends and I went car to car offering people sodas, water, and Gatorade. Sometimes people were very thankful and appreciative; others were afraid that we were carjackers and yelled at us to leave. Regardless, it’s a really fun memory.

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Q: If you could take a road trip anywhere, where would it be?

A: When I was about seven years old, my family took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. I only remember bits and pieces from that trip because I was so young, but the scenery that I do remember was absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to beat the pristine wilderness of Wyoming and Montana. As soon as I graduate this December, I’m going to plan my road trip to Yellowstone for Spring 2020.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from this show?

A: I think a lot of people are going to want to call their parents after watching this show. “Leaving Iowa” really shows how damaging it is to let a family remain disconnected, but it also shows that things can be reconciled with time and effort. Whatever family drama is going on for some of our audience members, I hope this play encourages them to put their disagreements on the back burner and appreciate the family that they have been blessed with.

Q: Tell me a little about yourself. Do you want to pursue theater, or is this just a fun side activity for you?

A: I’m an English major at Fresno Pacific University with a minor in Theater. I’ll be graduating this December and will be looking towards graduate school as my “next step.” In regards to theater, that’s a tough one. I had no interest in pursuing theater after high school; however, Julia Reimer recruited me in 2017, and I found myself playing Duke Orsino in “Twelfth Night.” That was a big shift for me and it reinvigorated my love for theater. Then, working with Brooke Aiello on projects like “Guys and Dolls” and “Emma” allowed me to grow as an actor more than I ever thought I would. Now, I’m at this weird stage in my life where I need to decide if I want to continue theater seriously, or file it away as a hobby. Regardless of what I decide, theater will always be a huge part of my life.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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