Take Me is undermined by its own whimsy | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Take Me is undermined by its own whimsy

Guilt and grief lead a woman to imagine she's been contacted by aliens.

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Imaginative and often beautiful visual projections by designer Tony Churchill transform Strawdog Theatre's intimate, low-ceilinged performing area into an otherworldly environment for Take Me, by playwright (and Reader contributor) Mark Guarino and songwriter Jon Langford, a quirky world premiere directed by Anderson Lawfer.

It's the story of Shelley (the engaging Nicole Bloomsmith), a service representative for a wireless telephone carrier, who one day is contacted by aliens—or so she believes. As the action unfolds, shifting confusingly between reality and fantasy, we come to understand that this outer-space connection is all in Shelley's mind. Her delusion is driven by guilt and grief over the disappearance of her little boy—kidnapped from an amusement park after she carelessly left him in his stroller while she purchased some cotton candy—and the fate of her husband (Michael Reyes), an airline pilot who is surviving on life support in a vegetative state after being the sole survivor of a plane crash.

The high stakes of this premise are unintentionally trivialized by the odd and sometimes whimsical "alternative reality" into which Shelly retreats, a world populated by characters only she can see. These include her childhood toy Doggie (Kamille Dawkins); a trio of Soviet space dogs; and, best of all, Travis (Carmine Grisolia), a freewheeling country singer who has been abducted by extraterrestrials.

Langford, best known as one of the founding members of the Mekons, has penned a handful of songs that benefit greatly from the twangy rock arrangements by Annabelle Revak. A live band under Chuck Evans's musical direction accompanies the able and earnest cast of singer-actors; the musicians are dimly visible through an upstage scrim, but the show would be considerably enhanced if they were placed center stage.   v

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