Keota Puts On Pun-Filled Play about Potato Farmers’ Plight

Wyatt Donald
Casey Jarmes
The News-Review

KEOTA – The Keota drama department presented the comedic play “Heaven Help the Po’ Taters!” on April 3 and 6. The play, written by Billy St. John, takes place in 1898 and tells the story of poor Idaho potato farmers dealing with a drought. The townsfolk send young, naive Spud Farmer to go to the big city and negotiate water rights, only to follow and spy on him. The cast of pun-named characters included Luke Moeller as Irish Tater, Emily Sheetz as Etta Tater, Zoey Sieren as Sweetpea and Maitre D’, Steven Bird as Chip, Emily Mahan as Tilda Fields, Grace Conger as Ida Hoe, Kennedy Jackson as Cher Kropper, Jake Morris as Dick Tater, Cassie Swantz as Carmen Tater, Marlee Greiner as Emma Tater, Danika Swantz as Anna Tater, Dakota Dodd as Ory Gunn, Will Klein as Marshal Art, Ava Greiner as Candide Yam, Gavin Sieren as Spud Farmer, Addison Purkeypile as Sister Salt, Wyatt Donald as Noah Count, and Nino Kirtava as Sue Duse. Reese Conrad handled the curtains. The set was constructed by Colleen Donald, Wyatt Donald, Kate Elam, Emily Mahan, Mison Milam, Luke Moeller, Emily Sheetz, Gavin Sieren and Isaac Striegel.

The play was directed by long-time Keota drama teacher Jane Edwards. Edwards has lost track of how many plays she’s directed over her 48 years in education, but estimates the number is around eighty. “(I chose this play because) it was silly, and after doing a semi-dramatic one in the fall, we needed to,” said Edwards. “I mean, just listen to these names: Ida Hoe, Dick Tater, Cher Cropper, Ory Gunn, Marshal Art. Candide Yam is our heroine, just silliness. Y’all need a little silliness.”

Wyatt Donald gave an entertaining performance as the play’s villain, a devilish lawyer by the name of Noah Count. “He’s very loud and pretty arrogant and narcissistic. And he does a lot of interaction with the audience, so that’s pretty fun,” said Donald. “There’s one part where I literally have to egg on the audience to boo me over and over. He’s also pretty mean to the children in the play, which is kinda fun...I’m probably most excited for the first day just because there’s so much audience interaction, and there’s like a lot of focus on my character being like ‘These potato farmers have no idea that I’m trying to steal money from them’. I think that it’s really fun.”

“I like teaching drama because I watch people who don’t think they can do this do this and do it really, really well,” said Edwards. “(Wyatt) was like, ‘I’m not gonna do this, I’m not gonna do this. Well, I’ll do a little part.’ Well, I’ve got this villain part, Wyatt. ‘That would be cool.’ I like watching kids memorize stuff and when they think they can’t do it and then they always can. I like that we have sports kids, we have non-sports kids. We have introverts. We have extroverts. And they all get put into the potato cooker this time.”

“Everybody’s playing characters and all the characters are a lot different. That’s pretty cool to see. It’s also pretty fun because I’m originally from Idaho. So it’s interesting to hear all these jokes relating to stereotypes,” said Donald. “(It is) not very accurate. It is pretty funny, all of the potato jokes, though...I had of experience with drama and stuff from my old school in Idaho. And after moving here, it was pretty interesting because it really got me out of my comfort zone. Because, before I was preforming in front of all these people that I knew really well. And then after I came here, I didn’t really know anybody. I didn’t know the people in this community, I didn’t know my peers. And so it was pretty nerve-wracking to be able to adjust to that, and I appreciate that.”

Cassie Swantz played gossiping farm wife Carmen Tater. “Something I like about my character is I’m innovative,” said Swantz. “Like I come up with ideas quick...I also like that we gossip a lot...I like the puns in the play. The twists on the names are funny. They all mean something, pretty much. There’s a couple times where we say we’re Po’ Folks, I like that, which is funny. I like that we’re potato farmers from Idaho and we all have names that mean potatoes and stuff like that”

“Last year was the first year. I pulled curtains and had like one line for the spring musical,” continued Swantz. “And this year I did the fall play and I’m doing the spring play. And I really love theater. I love acting. I like having parts that don’t fit my personality, especially because it makes me go out of my comfort zone. But I’ve done speech for three years, since I’ve been here, and I love speech. I just love everything about acting. I like having a script and being able to be a different character and like no one knowing what your character is. And then once you start acting, they know exactly what it is.”

“I just like that it’s fun. Like, it’s not sad, it’s upbeat...I just like that (the plays) are all different,” said Emily Sheetz, who played the Ema Tater, her seventh role in a Keota Play. “Not all of them are the same. I’ve had big parts and I’ve had small parts and it’s just kind of cool to see all the different parts that you can have in plays and stuff.”

“This year, she doesn’t have to wear a Catwoman leather suit for the entire play,” interjected Edwards, referencing Sheetz’s role in last year’s spring play.

Edwards and her students noted the difficulties that come with putting on a play, due to the high number of activities going on in the spring. “I pushed them really hard at the beginning, because they were like, ‘we’re doing four days a week? Are you kidding me?’ And this last week, we had no practice at all last week,” said Edwards. “This week we had one, because of the scheduling. Once spring sports starts, I’ve got kids playing soccer, kids golfing, I’ve got kids in track. So we had to have it ready before EagleRock! went to Florida, and we did. And now it’s just pulling back up.”

It’s kinda hard when people are gone and stuff, because then you get used to them not being there, and when they are there, it’s like kind of weird,” said Sheetz.

“Being involved in a lot of other things I know stresses a lot of kids out,” said Swantz. “For me, I’m involved in softball and we already have practices. So I go from play straight to softball and I know, for me, that it’s not really like super stressful, but it makes me tired and I know a lot of people go from track to play softball. Some people go from play to track to dance.”

“I haven’t had like a pretty big role in a while so it’s kind of a new adjustment to relearn how to memorize so many different things and also interact so much with other characters, while remaining consistent in what your character is,” said Donald. “And while also playing off and allowing other people to show off what their character is as well. So, that’s probably one of the challenges I face, is really relearning how to do that.”




The News-Review

120 East Washington
Sigourney, Iowa 52591
Phone: 641-622-3110

601 G. Avenue/PO Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
Telephone: 1-319-824-6958
Fax: 1-319-824-6288

Mid-America Publishing

This newspaper is part of the Mid-America Publishing Family. Please visit for more information.