Review: City Theatre's 'Ives' is a compelling tale of sports and music, fathers and daughters
We know Jessica Dickey best as playwright and actor of her one-woman show “The Amish Project,” which she performed at City Theatre in 2011.
Our admiration for her work only increases with “Charles Ives Take Me Home,” directed by Matt Morrow, City's associate artistic director.
This smart, endearing story of fathers and children and how they shape each other's lives is, in a sense, a course in music appreciation mixed with a lesson in sports as an art form. Who knew how closely a basketball play could mimic a violin?
The character of real-life, early 20th century composer Charles Ives narrates the tale of fictional violinist John Starr and daughter Coach Laura Starr.
Father and daughter are equally passionate about seemingly opposite interests — music and basketball. Laura tries to cross the divide, but is rebuffed time and again by a father who refuses to see their connections.
The stage in City's intimate Lester Hamburg Theatre is set simply (by the always reliable Tony Ferrieri) — a locker room bench and blackboard at one end, a wooden chair and piano at the other, where the gym flooring curves up, sweeping into the air like — dare we say? — a piece of fine music.
We meet grown-up Laura (Tressa Glover, who shows a remarkable range as the tough coach, vulnerable teen and energetic child) prepping the Jerome High School girls team for the second half of their first game. Laura paces, lectures, pushes them to dive for the ball, to play “unreasonably.” “That is what we are here for,” she says. “That is the art.”
The young Laura visits her divorced dad on scheduled weekends. John (the powerful Drew McVety, reprising the role he originated off-Broadway at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater) carries a grudge. He thinks he hides it. He gave up the best years of his Juilliard training and turned down an offer to join a prestigious European symphony because of his daughter.
But despite the sacrifice, he devotes more attention to his music than to understanding Laura. He hates sports; his own father was a gym coach who dragged the unwilling John to games. “My father was the opposite of music,” he says.
John attempts to teach the youthful Laura music terminology. He demonstrates with his violin — pizzicato, tremolo, crescendo — but misses the insightful way she imitates the sounds with her basketball.
As an older Laura tries to help her father with advice to make him happier, John responds with bitterness: “Music is my life. Music is my joy, my deep. Music is the only home I have.”
Ives (played by James Fitzergerald with teasing humor and kindness) is John's former teacher. Ives is his idol and favorite composer. Ives loves sports and music. He recognizes and revels in their patterns and similarities. But his lessons are lost on John.
This wonderful, yet heartbreaking story spins as assuredly as a player pivoting with a ball. There are no fumbles, no false notes. Until the buzzer sounds — have a tissue ready — and finissimo.
Sally Quinn is deputy managing editor for features. She can be reached at 412-320-7885 or email@example.com.