Emily Schwend’s “Take Me Back” questions the idea of the seemingly unattainable American Dream by profiling one man’s journey after being released from jail. With minimal job prospects or financial stability, ex-convict Bill (James Kautz) is forced to move in with and care for his diabetic mother, Sue (Charlotte Booker).
When Bill’s newly married ex-girlfriend Julie (Boo Killebrew) stops by for a visit, Bill realizes that his life has been put on hold while everyone else’s have continued in full motion. Suddenly, all Bill thinks that he knows about his life starts to unravel.
The 90-minute play explores the human desire for self-improvement, the drama of strained relationships and the unsettling feeling of not knowing where you are going in life. The dark comedy pushes emotional limits in showing the pitfalls of American society and the self-destructive nature of the human condition.
Set in Sue’s plain house in Muskogee, Okla., “Take Me Back” uses the kitschy and somewhat washed-out abode as a reflection of Bill’s bleak state of being. In the center of the stage, there is an old-fashioned television set playing game show reruns, turned on even before the play has begun, perfectly encompassing Bill and Sue’s desperate situation.
The cast’s performances subtly highlight the melancholy truth of the American Dream being no more than just a dream. The high-energy, passionately raw performances make it easy for the audience to relate and sympathize with the characters. In particular, the strained mother-son relationship between Bill and Sue is examined beautifully, emphasizing that both characters want what is best for one another, but just do not see eye to eye.
Their interactions are both endearing and heart-breaking, and are portrayed in such a believable manner that most people will see the situation reflected in their everyday lives. The actors’ portrayals were comfortable, truthful and natural, vitalizing the play’s dismal subject matter.
Despite the dark nature of the play, Schwend’s writing is incredibly comical in an honest yet macabre way. Relationships are explored humorously, making light of tense, awkward situations that would otherwise be very grim. The juxtaposition of Bill’s life — described before and after his jail time — is written in a tragically authentic manner that underlines the flawed, unaccepting ways of modern American society.
The melancholic and somewhat sardonic note of “Take Me Back” has something that everyone can relate to or learn from.
“Take Me Back” is playing at Walkerspace, 46 Walker St., through March 22.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13 print issue. Joseph Myers is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]