When audiences walk into Strawdog Theatre’s space for Take Me, they are immediately met with a magical world of blue and green. Projections of constellations surround, and the close proximity of the intimate setting makes one almost feel like they are swimming in the bright lights. You might just feel like you are entering a completely new universe. This writer urges you to take a seat and appreciate the view, because what follows is a story reminding us that nothing is truly as it seems, and that view might just start to feel a little darker.
Strawdog Theatre presents World Premiere of Take Me
Based on a true story with original book by Mark Guarino and original music and lyrics by Jon Langford, Take Me follows Shelly (Nicole Bloomsmith, with stunning vocals). Beginning with her husband Matt (Michael Reyes) falling into a coma, a series of events lead Shelly to finding herself lost in a world of chaos. Trapped in a place of anxiety and trauma that is quickly growing out of her control, she turns to an alien conspiracy group for comfort (led by the hilarious Carmine Grisolia as Travis) – a choice that leads Shelly to believe that building an alien-themed amusement park in Roswell, New Mexico might just be the solution she needs. Take Me is a comedic musical, with a story at its heart about hope, and finding answers when the world seems so unwillingly able to provide them.
Over the course of the musical, Shelly increasingly finds herself drawn to the mystical world above over the dark reality below. Helmed by Director Anderson Lawfer, the artistic team brings that sharp contrast to life.
Lighting Designer John Kelly and Projections Designer Tony Churchill collaborate to create a hypnotic world outside of our everyday realm – beginning with the moment we enter the space. Because of the intimate setting, we as an audience are immediately embraced into the enticing extraterrestrial world. Neon lighting surrounds us – even the live band off stage can be seen through a window with a lime-green lit screen. When the musical begins, the ensemble enters in blue polo shirts that compliment Kelly’s lighting. Everything feels outside of this world until a sharp switch occurs – suddenly the lights are neutral, and we are in the midst of a regular day at a tech company where Shelly and her colleagues answer phones all day. Over the course of the musical we learn details of Shelly’s life that begin to shed light on why she might feel drawn to an alien conspiracy theory. Lawfer and his team help the audience comprehend that choice not only from a script perspective, but also the physical world of the play. The juxtaposition between the neutral everyday setting and the science fiction realm better enables us to understand her perspective.
Alternate Look at Trauma
This is a world-premiere musical, and at moments this writer felt the book and music could have delved deeper into the subject at hand. With more time and productions in front of an audience, this writer is confident those elements will continue to grow.
However, that which Guarino has begun to create is something very special and original. This writer does not want to give away the ending, but Shelly’s life certainly takes a turn after her husband falls into a coma. With so little support from family and friends, she has no choice but to turn to a conspiracy that not only offers her a community, but also a potential opportunity to escape. Alien abduction in this musical is seen as a gift, as well as Shelly’s mind’s attempts to make sense of a broken world around her. Trauma is terrifying and often confusing, and Guarino begins to shed light on its impacts – which Bloomsmith successfully brings to life through a character portrayal that is full of light and optimism.
In his director’s note, Lawfer states:
“Take Me is about opening your heart and listening to the voices that tell you how to keep moving instead of how to give up.”
Perhaps in a world that is increasingly full of doubt and conflict, a musical like Take Me is precisely the kind of lesson that we need. This writer has certainly not stopped thinking about the musical’s questions since she left the theater.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Kristen Alesia (Ensemble), Nicole Bloomsmith* (Shelley), Kamille Dawkins* (Doggie), Megan DeLay (Nurse), David Gordon-Johnson (Doctor), Carmine Grisolia* (Travis), Michael Reyes* (Matt), Loretta Rezos (Mother) and Matt Rosin (Father).
John Ross Wilson (scenic design), Rachel M. Sypniewski (costume design), John Kelly* (lighting design), Heath Hays* (sound design), Lacie Hexom (props design), Tony Churchill (projections design), Jenn Thompson (stage manager) and Emily Ioppolo (assistant stage manager).
Original Book: Mark Guarino
Original Music and Lyrics: Jon Langford
Orchestrations/Arrangements: Anabelle Revak
Director: Anderson Lawfer*
Music Director: Chuck Evans
Running through June 22, 2019
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 4:00pm
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with intermission
Strawdog Theatre Company
1802 W. Berenice Ave.
Chicago, IL 60613
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.