It was the “Charles Ives” in the title of Jessica Dickey’s Charles Ives Take Me Home that was just intriguing enough to draw my husband to see this Strawdog Theatre Company production. This was our first visit to the theatre, but won’t be our last. This was an excellent performance. In an intimate space, on a sparsely filled stage, three skilled and multitalented actors told a story that was insightful and deeply moving.
Charles Ives Take Me Home, which plays until June 21st concludes Strawdog’s 26th season. Charles Ives Take Me Home was nominated for the prestigious Susan Blackburn Prize and was first produced by Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in NYC in June 2012 and was met with praise from audiences and critics alike. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times wrote “Charles Ives Take Me Home suggests she [Dickey] is a talent to watch: her writing has freshness, economy, an occasional cheeky vulgarity and a fine measure of poetic insight”.
This play, which deals with a complex and difficult relationship between the father John Starr (Dave Belden) and his daughter, Laura Starr (Stephanie Chavara) with Charles Ives (Jamie Vann) as narrator and arbitrator, was perfectly cast. Jamie Vann looking very much like Charles Ives is a kindly welcoming figure beginning and ending the play with “thank you”. Dave Belden was a very convincing divorced father of a girl who confounded him no matter what her age. The he was also skilled in playing the violin was critical and very well done. Stephanie Chavara portrayed Laura through many ages and stages, convincingly, powerfully and very energetically.
The juxtaposition of sports, basketball and music, the violin, seemed in opposition but in fact there were many parallels as presented. John’s father was a sports enthusiast, which John hated. John’s life is music, and Laura rebels by becoming a star basketball player, eventually coaching a girl’s basketball team. Laura, as the child of divorced parents is always searching for her place in the world. John has a lot of trouble being a parent of a girl and try though he will, he doesn’t easily relate to his daughter.
As I became involved in the lives of father and daughter, the Ives music including: "Variations On America," "The Unanswered Question, " "Things Our Fathers Loved (from 114 Songs)," "Sonata for violin and piano no. 4," and "The Concord Sonata" lent depth and power.
The direction by Keira Fromm with music direction by Strawdog Theatre Company Member Mike Przygoda and original music composition by Christopher Kriz, are to be commended.
I learned much more about the technical aspects of both the violin and basketball that I would have expected and it was fascinating. The rhythmic aspects of the bouncing ball and the violin were an unexpected compare and contrast. We left the performance enriched intellectually and moved, emotionally.
Charles Ives is important because John met him once, and worships him and tells Laura about him. Laura tells her father that Charles Ives was in insurance. Charles Ives’s father was a musician whose music wasn’t typical. Ives was trained classically but had to go into business, eventually the insurance business when his father died suddenly when Ives was about twenty. Charles Ives was the father of modern music, writing music at night. Much of the music that he wrote, wasn’t performed publically during his lifetime.
The production team also includes Strawdog Company members Mike Mroch, co-production manager and set design; John Kelly, lightdesigner; Brittany Dee Bodley, costume design; Sam Hubbard, fightchoreographer; Josh Sobel, dramaturg; Carmine Grisolia, technicaldirector with guest artists Christopher Kriz, sound designer; Jamie Karas, props designer; Lindsey Miller, stage manager; Sarah Jackson,assistant director; Danielle Whaley, co-production manager and Kristoff Janezic, master electrician.
Walking out of the play, I felt that I had a new perspective on music, Charles Ives’ music and basketball. I strongly recommend this play and the very friendly, charming theater, too.
All productions, plus ongoing late night offerings, are presented at Strawdog’s space in the heart of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, 3829 N. Broadway St. Tickets are available at 773.528.9696 or the Strawdog Theatre Company website. The neighborhood has limited paid parking and is easily accessible by public transportation (via the Red Line Sheridan stop, plus 36-Broadway, 80-Irving Park, and 151-Sheridan buses).
Photos: Courtesy of Strawdog Theatre Company