Hoops and Harmony City's 'Charles Ives Take Me Home' Pits Musical Father against Athletic Daughter

By Eberson, Sharon | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), November 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

Hoops and Harmony City's 'Charles Ives Take Me Home' Pits Musical Father against Athletic Daughter


Eberson, Sharon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Actress and playwright Jessica Dickey was playing basketball with the boys at age 10, at the same time she was taking music lessons and heading in a theatrical direction. That the two went together was the natural order of things in her life, unlike the attitude of the violin-playing father and his daughter the coach in "Charles Ives Take Me Home."

The discord in their relationship finds a mediator in American composer Ives, a pioneer of modernist music who died in 1954.

Ms. Dickey brought her one-woman show "The Amish Project" to City Theatre in 2011 and returns as writer only of "Charles Ives Take Me Home," which gets its second production after debuting at New York's Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in June. Tressa Glover, producing artistic director of Pittsburgh's No Name Players, portrays the basketball-playing Coach Laura Starr, a character with roots in the author's life.

"No one would ever know it, but I was a total jock growing up. My dad was a gym teacher," Ms. Dickey said. "I kept it up, but I always knew my life was going to be in the theater. For me, sports is so much a part of theater -- theater is a team sport."

Her athletic father suffered a sudden heart attack a while back, and that informed the themes of mortality and reckoning that pervade the play with music. Her father has since recovered, but she can describe the moment she got the call in great detail, walking on her street in Brooklyn, where the trees created "this cave shape to the ceiling of the world."

"My entire life, he has always run 6 or 8 miles a day. I remember he had to stay home with me once, and I was in shreds that he was missing his run because I was sick," Ms. Dickey said. "When he had a heart attack, it was just a shock. ... So much in this play is of my heart; it's real."

Where "Charles Ives" takes a detour from reality is orchestra violinist John Starr's conjuring of Ives, a long-ago classmate at Juilliard whose music he admires. Among the ways it detours from autobiography is the conflict between father and daughter. Laura Starr's dedication to sports seems as wrong to her father, John, as devoting his life to music was antithetical to his athletic father.

Ms. Glover was up to the challenge of looking like a natural while handling a basketball and delivering a pep talk, while finding a man who can play the violin and act the part of John Starr presented another challenge. Drew McVety, a veteran Broadway performer and musician, originated the role in New York and reprises it for City.

It never occurred to Ms. Dickey that creating a role that required an actor to also be an accomplished musician might be a problem.

"What I have noticed as I've talked to people who have considered doing the play, even Rattlestick and City ... they worry about different things. David [Van Asselt, artistic director] at Rattlestick was like, 'Oh, we're going to be able to find the violinist, but is there an actress who can really dribble?' And I was like, 'Well dude, I dribble. …

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