Starving on Dissonances

“Thank you for coming,” an old man says.  “For using your presence as a vote, if you will, that before we are dead in the ground, being in a room together is valuable.  I won’t say important—there’s no need to be ridiculous—but valuable.”  The man is the modernist composer Charles Ives (Henry Stram), and it’s a sweet, unassuming opening to a sweet, unassuming play.  Jessica Dickey’s Charles Ives Take Me Home runs for little over an hour and chronicles the relationship between John Starr (Drew McVety), a frustrated violinist, and his daughter, Coach Laura Starr (Kate Nowlin), a tall, lanky girl with “basketball knees” whose passion for the sport rivals her father’s for his own vocation—but, of course, John cannot respect basketball just as his father before him could not respect classical music, even though Laura, listening to him play, is able to mimic his rhythm with her dribbling.   Charles Ives, long dead, once taught John at Julliard and proves the avuncular, ghostly intermediary between two family members who are constantly misunderstanding each other.

Sure, the text is hardly revolutionary and the narrative an old one we’ve seen many times before.  But Ms. Dickey’s work never attempts anything grand, and there is something charming about its simplicity.  Mr. McVety is fabulous as the thin-lipped Starr, and can imbue lines as crass as, “I like tits.  Big.  The weirder the nipples the better,” with the pretentiousness of an Ivy League grad name-dropping his alma mater.  Ms. Nowlin is painfully sincere and despite her height often succeeds in playing Laura at various preadolescent ages, while Mr. Stram unites the two with his bucolic ease.  There is a surprisingly beautiful moment when he tells Starr, at age twenty, “You know, when you lose your father, the trees lean down.”  It is the kind of wisdom we would expect from a poet farmer whose nails have been dirtied by the earth for decades.

The Rattlestick is anything but a consistent theater company—and yet, the works they produce (even the lousy ones) always feel worthwhile.  The details of Charles Ives Take Me Home may quickly fade from your memory, but I suspect that its puckish twinkle will endure.

Take Me Home Charles Ives runs through June 29th at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.  224 Waverly Place  New York, NY.  1 hour 15 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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