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Review: Charles Ives Take Me Home (Strawdog Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Charles Ives Take Me Home (Strawdog Theatre)   
Charles Ives Take Me Home

Written by Jessica Dickey 
Directed by Keira Fromm 
at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map)
thru June 21  |  tickets: $28   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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Strawdog succeeds with compelling Ives work


Review: Charles Ives Take Me Home (Strawdog Theatre)


Strawdog Theatre presents


Charles Ives Take Me Home

Review by Lawrence Bommer

In only 75 minutes Jessica Dickey’s dexterous one-act manages to integrate—very convincingly—basketball, fatherhood, the deaths of parents, and the music of eclectic modernist composer Charles Ives (1874-1954). A sort of action meditation on the intersections of life and art and sports and music, this curiously compelling work has fallen into the right hands with Keira Fromm’s driven direction, a Strawdog success.

Dickey’s passion play assembles John Starr (Dave Belden), an aspiring violinist living in Queens and dying too early and a former student of Ives—who briefly acted as his second father, and John’s teenage/grown daughter Laura (Stephanie Chavara), a basketball devotee who will become a girls coach.

Review: Charles Ives Take Me Home (Strawdog Theatre)
The non-linear action combiners and contrasts flashbacks, apostrophes from the characters, and seminal encounters that define dad, daughter and mentor by their resistance to or acceptance of changes they make to and for each other. John is frustrated that his daughter, the one good thing saved from a bad marriage, refuses to become his musical successor, preferring to dribble balls than to play the violin in all the different ways he gleefully demonstrates. (John rages at having to spend $190 to send her to basketball camp, then, looking closer, worries over matters like “What if your life doesn’t like you?”)

Dissonance to dad’s craving for concord, Laura seethes with adolescent rebellion. She falls prey to kneejerk reactions that keep her from seeing how much love comes from a parent she think lives only to thwart her happiness. Inevitably, Laura will go on to champion basketball for girls (even its power to distract teens from unwanted pregnancies). Laura’s arrhythmia to John’s regularity ironically foreshadows the heart attack that too becomes a musical statement later in the story.

Avuncular and magisterial, Jamie Vann’s compassionate Ives propounds his belief that art and life are as inseparable as lungs and air. He works overtime as a harmonizing mediator (or referee) between Laura (life) and John (art). His reconciling philosophy is that music “takes us home” and makes us “strain with all our might to listen to the strange clanging majesty in our heart.” Ives’ warm lectures contrast the father’s dry reliance on the authority of expertise with Laura’s hot rage to hit a hoop from center court (“Dive for the ball!,” she exhorts).

On fire with how notes can fuse time and spirit, the composer shows how “Music is wet and pungent and leaves a stain.” So is the family friction that gets set apart (in every way) by musical interludes when Ives and John, on violin and piano, improvise a creative opposition, disparately drawn from Ives’ “Concord Sonata.” (Alas, none of Ives’ wonderful songs are featured here.)

Charles Ives Take Me Home is a mercurial offering with more mood swings than major or minor keys across countless key signatures. Only occasionally self-consciously symbolic, its seemingly unwieldy assemblage of sports metaphors and music theory requires firm performances for clarity as much as conviction. Vann’s confident Ives, Belden’s father, firm in love if unsettled in life, and Chavara’s acolyte, bouncing with an ardent zest to score life’s rim shots—they forge a heartfelt syncopation. Best of all, they testify to the occasional but essential off-rhythms that push us apart and hold us together.


Rating: ★★★



Charles Ives Take Me Home continues through June 21st at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 4pm.  Tickets are $price, and are available by phone (866-811-4111) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission)

Review: Charles Ives Take Me Home (Strawdog Theatre)

Photos by Chris Ocken 




Jamie Vann (Charles Ives), Dave Belden (John Starr), Stephanie Chavara (Laura Starr)

behind the scenes

Keira Fromm (director), Mike Przygoda (music director), Mike Mroch (co-production manager, set design), John Kelly (light design), Brittany Dee Bodley (costume design), Sam Hubbard (fight choreographer), Josh Sobel (dramaturg), Carmine Grisolia (technical director), Christopher Kriz (sound design), Jamie Karas (props design), Lindsey Miller (stage manager), Sarah Jackson (asst. director), Danielle Whaley (co-production manager), Kristoff Janezic (master electrician), Chris Ocken (photos)


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