Olson-Larsen Galleries presents dsmArts —

Liz (Lyndsy Darland) has to choose between Frank (Peter Dean, left) and Pete (Gabe Thompson, right) in the premiere of “Choices” by Karen Schaeffer. Separating the combative suitors is Ian Shields as Chad. Photo: Steve Gibbons.


dsm Theater Review by Michael Morain

A friend can tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. Or make you laugh after a bad day. Or set you up on a blind date and then hack into someone else’s online dating profile in order to set up another date and then place secret bets over which person you’ll eventually fall for.

That’s what friends are for, right?

At least, that’s what they’re for in “Choices,” the breezy brand-new comedy at Des Moines Community Playhouse. It’s written by local playwright Karen Schaeffer, who created the 2014 hit “Girls’ Weekend,” and it captures some of the same sorts of friendships – especially women’s friendships – that are built on loyalty, candor and well-intentioned meddling.

In this case, a 43-year-old widow named Liz (the charming, forthright Lyndsy Darland) is ready to dip into the dating pool again but doesn’t have much luck. The last guy she met talked for two hours about his collection of spoons.

So her two best friends (Heather Tragesser and Maggie Jane Tatone) each set her up with a different man – a cocky IT specialist (Gabe Thompson) and a handsome but awkward dentist (Peter Dean). From there, the story spins into a series of dates at a series of restaurants where Liz and her gentlemen callers are served by a saucy gay waiter named Chad (Ian Shields). It’s not entirely clear why Chad works at every restaurant in town – “moonlighting,” he whispers through a fake mustache – but it’s a happy coincidence since he dishes out many of the best lines.

The show moves quickly from scene to scene like a sitcom. Director John Viars’ stagehands rearrange Nicholas Amundson’s smart modular sets with the well-oiled precision of a pit crew, accompanied by snippets of upbeat jazz. The moving parts work especially well when a brawl breaks out in Liz’s apartment, continues on the elevator and ends up in the building’s front lobby.

But that slick sitcom style is also a challenge. As in a TV series pilot, it takes a while to get to know the characters; here, only Liz and Chad really get a chance to develop from one scene to the next during the show’s two hours. Liz’s two friends and two suitors are largely interchangeable.

Considering the alternative, though, it’s better to leave audiences wanting more. Each “Choices” character is appealing, and the friendships that propel the plot feel authentic. Anybody – or any buddy – who goes to such lengths for a friend is worth getting to know.

“Choices” runs through Oct. 29 at Des Moines Community Playhouse, 831 42nd St. For show times and tickets, visit

Historic and picturesque, Valley Junction can draw a crowd when the district hosts special events.


The West Des Moines commercial district that calls itself Historic Valley Junction is now certifiably historic – and they have the papers to prove it.

The neighborhood group and the State Historic Preservation Office announced Monday that the area has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The designation from the National Park Service covers 52 historic properties along a three-block stretch of Fifth Street and several cross streets that developed in the railroad boom years of the 1890s and evolved into a charming cluster of shops, galleries, bars and restaurants.

Today, the area's early Italianate brick buildings stand shoulder-to-shoulder with mid-century Classical Revival designs and the sleeker storefronts that went up in the 1950s and '60s.Getting listed on the register is the first step toward eligibility for various federal preservation tax credits and grant programs.

“Historic Valley Junction has thrived for more than a century,” said Jim Miller, executive director of the Historic Valley Junction Foundation. “There are so many great stories here, so we’re delighted the National Register designation can help us share our history with future generations.”

A warm welcome: Final reveal of 1935 brick home exterior renovation Silent Rivers revitalized this 1935 Des Moines home with a full exterior update. Before-and-after photos show how we created a more inviting look, while retaining the home’s stately presence. Special attention was given to designing a carport and updates to the garage interior. ... Read more »

by Design presents dsmDining —
Can-do canapés: some crackers, a slice of Brie cheese and the magic pixie dust of Fox Point Seasoning. Poof! Mind blown.


By Wini Moranville

Every once in a while, when invited, I do cooking classes and give talks on the various aspects of my food-writing/restaurant reviewing work. The best thing about this is meeting new people—especially those who, after the presentation, share with me a few cooking tips, food finds or restaurant discoveries of their own.

That’s exactly how I found out about Fox Point Seasoning, a spice blend from Penzey’s Spices that I’ve pretty much gone mad for. An avid cook told me about this blend of salt, shallots, chives, garlic, onion and green peppercorns after I gave a talk to a local herb-lovers group. Though it’s named for Fox Point, a Dutch-settled village on Lake Michigan’s shore, I find the blend decidedly French. Green peppercorns add a subtle peppery flavor amid the herb and oniony angles brought by the other ingredients.

Because it’s subtle, I don’t use it in red-meat dishes. It’s especially great on fish or chicken—slather on some olive oil and sprinkle on some of this seasoning before roasting or broiling. I most often find myself tossing a teaspoon or so of it into buttered pasta and new potatoes, or whisking it into eggs before I scramble them with a few bits of Brie cheese.

In fact, I’ve found that this seasoning is particularly magical with Brie. Try it on my three-ingredient Brie canapés: Top a cracker with a thin slice of Brie no larger than the cracker; sprinkle a little Fox Point Seasoning on top of the Brie. Run it under the broiler (a toaster oven is especially handy for this) until the fragrance of the seasoning is released and the Brie gets melty, but not quite runny. It’s a simple, luscious bite for wine-down hour.

Penzey’s Spices is at 4100 University Ave #108; 515-267-0777;

Wini Moranville, who writes about cooking, wine and dining for dsm, is on Facebook at All Things Food DSM.

The Butler’s Pantry… Keep it or Lose it? Bonita loves the butler’s pantry.
Big and open kitchens are hugely popular. And with good reason. They can be a warm, inviting space to live and entertain in. The kitchen can be the heart of the home. And we could create a larger kitchen in this home ... Read more »

Two young ladies won the role of Lulu when "Waitress" played Cleveland. Auditions are Nov. 2 for Des Moines' own Lulu.


Your shot at Broadway glory may be easy as pie. Area bakers are invited to enter a pie contest with the winner to be featured when the Broadway hit “Waitress” comes to the Des Moines Civic Center in December.

Amateurs and pros alike can submit their favorite recipe for a pie that, in the words of our friends at the Civic Center, is “baked from the heart, one that expresses the baker’s hopes dreams, fears or frustrations.” Now that is one dramatic pie.

Recipes will be accepted until 5 p.m. Oct. 27. Finalists will be invited to produce their pies to be tasted by a panel of VIP judges. The winner will receive two tickets to the opening night of “Waitress.” In addition, the winner’s pie recipe will be produced and sold to patrons during the run of “Waitress,” Dec. 5-10. For the rules and more details, visit

If you can’t make pies but you have made kids, you may get a second shot at stage fame: The show will audition local girls for the role of Lulu, a carefree 4- to 5-year-old who appears in the production’s final scene. For more information, visit

This must be the place: The entry is a clue to identifying the Yellow Door Gallery, located on Des Moines' south side.


Yellow Door Gallery will host an "International Salon" from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 25, with residents of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. The evening will feature spoken words, visual art, a live art critique and storytelling.

The event highlights three International Writing Program residents: Maung Day, a poet from Myanmar; Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, a Kenyan novelist; and Kinga Toth, a poet and illustrator from Hungary.

Guests are encouraged to register for space and donate to support Yellow Door's programs ($5 suggested). And like other events in the residential gallery at 2121 Wakonda Drive, you're welcome to bring your own drink or snacks. The gallery has beer, wine and light fare. Learn more in this story from our dsm archives.

Victorian mourning rituals will come to life at an event at the State Historical Museum.


Learn about the dying art of Victorian mourning rituals – and the customs that live on – during the Oct. 26 installment of History on the Rocks, an event series for the grown-up crowd at the State Historical Museum.

From 5:45 to 7:30 p.m. discover the Victorian tradition of death portraits from Emily Godbey, an associate professor of art and visual culture at Iowa State University. Make a small keepsake out of (synthetic) hair with help from artist Veronica O'Hern of the Iowa Arts Council, an expert on the once-popular custom of remembering loved ones with artwork made from their hair. Sip a "Grim Reaper" cocktail. And before the night dies away, take a look at the museum's collection of funeral clothing, undertaking tools and other strangely fascinating funerary artifacts.

Tickets may be purchased online for $10 ($15 at the door) and include a drink and appetizers.

Journalists were a gritty lot in the 1930s, when tenacious Verne Marshall earned a Pulitzer Prize for exposing corruption in Iowa.


Debates about “fake news” and biased reporting add timeliness to a presentation next week on Iowa journalism in the 1930s. Iowa City author Jerry Harrington will speak at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23, at Artisan Gallery 218 in Historic Valley Junction. His focus is the subject of his new book, "Crusading Iowa Journalist Verne Marshall: Exposing Graft and the 1936 Pulitzer Prize."

Harrington's presentation and his book trace the legacy of tempestuous Cedar Rapids editor Verne Marshall’s incendiary crusade across Iowa’s political landscape. Marshall exposed a wide network of corruption and his aggressive investigative reporting led to multiple resignations, nearly 50 indictments and the dramatic trial of the state’s attorney general.

Victoria Herring, granddaughter of then Gov. Clyde Herring, will also participate in the discussion. Herring is one of the partners at Artisan Gallery 218.  

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