"Charles Ives Take Me Home": The Supremacy of Memory, Part One

Kate Nowlin, Henry Stram, and Drew McVety in Jessica Dickey's Charles Ives Take Me Home

     A blank page, a day, a life—all face us, empty and demanding. How do we fill them with material and experiences and expressions that will matter to us and others? This has been the primary obsession of the writer for generations, and it is a topic dealt with boldly and imaginatively in Jessica Dickey’s “Charles Ives Take Me Home,” which is nearing the completion of its run at the Rattlestick Theater, unless there is a surge in curiosity and taste and it is deservedly extended, moved, experienced.

    Arthur Miller felt it necessary to phone me late one evening to explain to me that the two defining events in his life and work—repeatedly—were death and ambition. Few of us, he told me, either as writers or as humans,  are prepared to handle either well or honorably, and yet Dickey manages to gently lead us directly toward these twin issues, and without the bellowing and posturing of some  playwrights, who might have done similar duty with a great deal of gonad and  impasto.

   A daughter of divorce not only wants to spend her life in the study and practice and joy of athletics, but she has managed to find within every move and maneuver an answer to the bewildering patterns that life continually presents and then retracts from her. Her father, a musician with a Juilliard degree, and one who has failed to garner any of the allegedly guaranteed benefits of such a laurel, finds order and control within scales and chords and memories of those musicians who assumed control, if only briefly, through the application of theory and practice. The athlete finds alchemy in the marriage of effort and sweat, which together create a magical energy that can replace, however spottily, the affections and attentions that she has been denied. The father keeps thinking of time spent in the presence of Charles Ives, the iconoclastic composer, who managed to display the glory of not only mastering the theories of music but the theories of living and loving and loss. I don’t want to reveal too much of what happens, but Ives becomes a mediator between the father and daughter, revealing how any activity, artistic or athletic, relies on principles that can bring order and control, can fill the blank page, the lazy day, the empty life.

   How we spend this minute, this day, this week determine the rest of our lives, and the days become a series of nets that can either entrap us or which can reel in a bounty of memories. A net of sorts is thrown out over the reader of Dickey’s play, in the form of Charles Ives, who welcomes us and lets us know that the supremacy of memory will reign in this play, this theatre. The net thrown out by Dickey’s Ives is a bountiful one, full of affection and the joyful memory of things and people lost. The net that hangs over the father of the play leaves him limbless and clumsy and angry: his net comes back to him empty time after time, because he only demands that it capture the precise things he desires and needs.  The daughter is crafting her own net—and we are her witnesses—and we wait to see what it captures, contains, protects.

   I have not yet seen the production of “Charles Ives Take Me Home.” I have only submitted to the script—several times and happily—and to its writer, who is herself a repository of memory and expectation. I will write of my experience with the production next week.


Charles Ives Take Me Home
Rattlestick Theater
224 Waverly Place
New York
(866) 811-4111



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