Review | TAKE ME at Strawdog Theatre

Review | TAKE ME at Strawdog Theatre

Picture (left to right): Carmine Grisolia and Nicole Bloomsmith in Strawdog Theatre Company’s world premiere of TAKE ME. Photo by KBH Media.

By Elizabeth Ellis

In the New Musical TAKE ME, now enjoying its world premiere at Strawdog Theatre, former Architect Shelly (the luminous Nicole Bloomsmith) now works remotely as a customer service rep for Doodle Wireless, Her alcoholic parents (Loretta Rezos and Matt Rosin) operate on a steady diet of conspiracy theories and fake facts. More significantly, she has endured a tragic double whammy — her pilot husband Matt (the quiet and sweet Michael Reyes), remains in a coma as the sole survivor of a plane crash, and their young son has been abducted. All of this would be enough to make anyone seek a respite from daily reality, and Shelly does. She devises conversations with Matt, and discovers a stuffed toy dog from her childhood, Doggie (the lovely Kamille Dawkins), who comes to life.

Eventually Shelly falls in with a group of conspiracy theorists who all claim to have been abducted by aliens at least once, led by country singer Travis (the warm and funny Carmine Grisolia), who writes music for the aliens. The theorists’ certainty convinces Shelly that aliens have also abducted her husband’s soul and her son, and she can bring them back if she uses her architectural experience to build an alien-themed amusement park in UFO Central: Roswell, New Mexico. Shelly builds a model of the attraction and the other theorists support her in her questionable endeavor (she needs only $100,000 to build an entire amusement park?)

The cast is obviously talented, both as actors and singers, and director Anderson Lawfer keeps the energy high and the interactions truthful. The fundamental problems lie in the book, and that it leaves so many threads unanswered. It’s a difficult and delicate road to tread if you’re switching between very human themes of sadness and loss, to something as otherworldly as possible alien interaction on earth.

Shelly has some measure of resolution onstage through interaction with her unresponsive husband, but what happens to her abducted son? Any parent who has lost a child to death or addiction experiences a tragic heartbreak and is forever changed, but if your child is missing: to not know if they’re alive or dead? That would create a constant sense of concern and anguish. Shelly explores none of that. Other elements also aren’t explained for reasons that aren’t made clear: somehow Doodle Wireless owns the airline that employed Peter as a pilot, but that fact makes no significant impact on the storyline. While obviously loving his daughter, Shelly’s father says not one line of dialogue. Why is this? When Shelly brings her park proposal to the Roswell zoning commission, the commissioners are all Russian dogs, who drink from flasks during the meeting. It’s strange because, well, dogs as city commissioners, but it comes across as perpetuating an unpleasant stereotype of Russians as heavy drinkers. When Travis, the country singer, sings his first song, it’s a blues song: why?

As far as the music, it’s abundantly clear that the musicians and singers are terrific, but the songs don’t rise to the level of the performers. The technical elements contribute to a great look and feel. John Ross Wilson’s scenic design, John Kelly’s lighting, Heath Hays’ sound, Rachel M. Sypniewski’s costumes (Travis’s rhinestone cowboy suit is amazing), and Anthony Churchill’s projections make the space magical and bathe the runway space in beautiful green and blue and starlight.

With some workshopping and clarification of the most essential themes and elements, TAKE ME has the potential to be a wonderful and thought-provoking piece. But even as the book and some of the songs starve for a clearer focus, strong work from the cast and musicians, and beautiful, and inventive technical elements, make this a production worth seeing.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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