By Jessica Dickey
Directed By Keira Fromm
At Strawdog Theatre Company, Chicago
“There can be nothing exclusive about substantial art. It comes directly out of the heart of the experience of life and thinking about life and living life.”
Joyful Production Makes You Feel At Home
Charles Ives Take Me Home is a celebration of joy providing a touching education in life, love, and art. Exploring what it means to be “home,” Jamie Vann’s performance of Charles Ives certainly made me feel welcomed. Vann’s portrayal of Ives took me back to warm memories of my grandfather, and my father’s bedtime stories. I could feel the warmth and sense of community permeate throughout the theatre. The composer Charles Ives serves as narrator, spiritual guide, and mentor to divorced father and violinist John Starr (Dave Belden). Ives tells us the story of John, and his daughter, Laura Starr (Stephanie Chavara), as they struggle to balance their passions with their lives. As the father and daughter grow, they learn that although their passions are what drive them, they are meaningless if you do not live life.
Set on a basketball court, the audience sits on either side turning the front row into courtside seats for this familial parable. Ives explains that he can’t go to a sporting event without thinking about music. He describes how the display of body, mind, and time in sports serve as the essential components of music and art. Just like teams fighting over possession, and charging up and down the court, the characters fight for their passions, bouncing back and forth between their adolescence and adulthood.
The title and synopsis of the play might be a bit misleading for anyone unfamiliar with Charles Ives. Under appreciated in his time, the modernist composer merely serves as our guide and John’s mentor. Ives’ life, philosophies, and dissonant compositions perfectly parallel the lives of the characters.
At only 75 minute long, the play is short and sweet, which gives you little excuse to miss this joyful production. Joy is an element that is often times absent from art, choosing instead to smother us with pretension, spectacle, or cynicism. The director made the theatre our humble home, leaving us with new ideas and warmth in our hearts. I recommend taking the time to bring some joy into your life and walk away with a better understanding of yourself and others.
The cast gave an all around magnificent performance, highlighted by Dave Belden’s beautiful violin playing. It was a treat to see music used as a story telling device in a way that was not like a musical. The portrayal of a professional musician disappointed in his daughter’s choice to pursue a career in sports was surprisingly profound. Since our society tends to worship athletes and put an emphasis on practical life goals, stories tend to place artistic pursuits as morally superior. However, that is not the case in this play. The play deconstructs what it means to have a dream and turns our predispositions upside down. No matter your goals, there will always be someone who disapproves, but regardless of your quest’s significance, it’s worth striving for.
If I have any complaints it would be that it’s a safe play that doesn’t take many risks. This is not a negative trait; however, it prevents the piece from being elevated to life changing art. Its lighthearted tone and straightforward plot give the production mass appeal, making it easily digestible and enjoyable for casual and seasoned theatregoers. Some of the lines are vulgar, and the characters swear at times, so I would not recommend the show to young children, but the play will offer good insight for teenagers, adults, and anyone who may be going through a transitional period in life. It’s a touching father daughter story, which will hold special significance for anyone who can relate.
Allow yourself to be welcomed into the arms of Charles Ives Take Me Home and permit the story telling, cast, and Ives’ music to fill you with joy. In a world that seems brimming with sorrow, it’s rare to find a piece that will show you otherwise. Charles Ives Take Me Home is an excellent close to Strawdog’s 26th season, ushering us into a summer filled with possibilities. This is the type of art that makes life worth living.
Date Reviewed: May 19th, 2014
For more info checkout the Charles Ives Take Me Home page at theatreinchicago.com
At Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway Chicago, IL, call 773-528-9899, www.strawdog.org, tickets $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 75 minutes with no intermission, through June 21, 2014