'Charles Ives' showcases strife, music, basketball
Playwright Jessica Dickey says composer Charles Ives had a great understanding of the need to keep his life as a person separate from that of his profession.
She uses that bit of wisdom as a driving force in “Charles Ives Take Me Home,” which goes into regular run Nov. 15 at City Theatre on the South Side.
The play is a look at the personal and professional clash of John Starr (Drew McVety), and his daughter Laura (Tressa Glover). He is a dedicated, if not too successful, violinist, while she is equally defined by basketball.
Their encounters are officiated — and observed — by Ives (James FitzGerald), who is not really there, of course. But, in fact, he is there as a sort of moral inquisitor for John as he deals with his own life and his inability to understand his daughter's.
The play is as funny as it is tragic, filled with dialogue that is piercing and poetic. It also features a great deal of Ives' music.
Director Matt M. Morrow, also the company's associate artistic director, says the relationship between John and Laura is “seen through an Ives-ian lens,” which is as unique as his music.
Morrow says the use of Ives in that role is appropriate because the composer brings to the play judgment rooted in his strength at composing what he wanted and not what would be accepted.
John cannot understand Laura's fascination with basketball and Laura cannot grasp his obsession with music — particularly that of Ives.
“Where love could emerge, there is only dissonance,” says Dickey, well-known for her one-woman show, “The Amish Project,” which was at City Theatre in 2011.
Meanwhile, Ives is a character in the play as it examines John's past. Ives (1874-1954) is portrayed as doing a tutorial with John when the violinist was attending the Juilliard School of Music. But mostly, Ives is an observer and commentator.
The play is done on a rather bare set, and Dickey refers to it as having an “Our Town” feeling. In that sense, Ives could be a parallel to the fabled state manager character of the Thornton Wilder classic.
Dickey says that similarity created a temptation to cheat.
“I would come to a difficult part, and I would sometimes think, ‘How would Wilder handle it?' ” she says. “But then, I would find my own way of doing it.”
She says she was impressed with Ives' constantly finding his own way of doing thing, as well. He created music built around “completely different sounds” that he heard. In the play, he talks to John about hearing those sounds as the absolute root of music.
In one of the most telling moments in the play, Laura, having done some research on Ives — more than her father ever does on basketball — mentions a quote from Henry David Thoreau that Ives liked.
“ ‘Instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets,'” she quotes. “ ‘I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.' ”
Morrow says the “dynamic between father and daughter” never is able to handle the “disconnect in their relationship.”
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7852.