“You could see the show as science fiction. Or you could see as a meditation on grief and loss.

“In its best moments … the show reminds me of Bowie’s Lazarus, a show that made no sense to me whatsoever until I found out that Bowie was dying and this was his meditation, his fever-dream, on how to cross over to the other side. In some ways, TAKE ME is a very prescient musical: I’m convinced we’ll soon we seeing far more explorations of inter-planetary dreaming, born of environmental necessity.

“You’ll find plenty here to merit a trip to Strawdog: At times, I was tempted to close my eyes, getting lost in the Bowie-esque longing you can find in these lush and potent melodies, true and vital feeling hidden in pastiche … the score deserves to be more widely heard.”
- Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune
“This show has charm and imagination to spare.”
Chicago Theatre Review
“When audiences walk into Strawdog Theatre’s space for TAKE ME … you might just feel like you are entering a completely new universe. Perhaps in a world that is increasingly full of doubt and conflict, a musical like TAKE ME is precisely the kind of lesson we need.”
Picture This Post
“An infectious rock score and impressive vocal talents.”
New City Stage
TAKE ME dares to dig into its darkness … It has a laser focused first act that ends with a bang, and a second act with constant twists and turns on an emotional roller coaster.”
Chicago Theatre Triathalon
“Lawfer keeps the energy high and the interactions truthful.”

TAKE ME is a world premiere musical by Mark Guarino featuring all-new original songs by Jon Langford (The Mekons).

Inspired by true events, TAKE ME is the story of Shelly, a woman trapped by the trauma of a husband in a coma and the chaos that follows. Her disintegrated mental state translates into the conviction that her husband and missing son have been abducted by aliens.

To seek answers, Shelly enters the realm of wild conspiracy theories. She joins an alien abductee support group led by Travis, a Nashville country songwriter who has been traveling through space writing songs on behest of the aliens he serves. Voices that Shelly believes are aliens tell her the answer to all her problems is to build an amusement park in Roswell, N.M. that will serve as a connector to another dimension.

Shelly, a former architect who walked away from her job after her husband’s tragedy, uses her professional skills to build a model of the amusement park (Area 52) that eventually “comes to life” through her imagination. She enters this magical world seeking answers but ends up getting one she didn’t anticipate from the beginning.

TAKE ME is a comic fantasia that also represents the second collaboration between Guarino and Langford since their hit play ALL THE FAME OF LOFTY DEEDS. It is a story about having faith in a world where there are more questions than answers.

Full-length with music.
Versatile cast of seven actors with opportunities for doubling.

Featuring the music and visuals of Jon Langford (The Mekons, Waco Brothers).

"There are very few good, serious, enjoyable theater pieces about country music — especially if you nix all those melodramatic Branson and Pigeon Forge homages — and this show could well fill a void in New York and beyond."
- Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune
“All the Fame of Lofty Deeds” explores what that means, in all its swaggering ambition and self-destructive complexity. It’s a work befitting a singer-songwriter-artist who has spent his adult life merging art, music and politics. “It’s my curse,” Langford says with a laugh. Guarino’s play makes it a highly entertaining and thought-provoking one."
– Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
“Playwright/rock journalist Mark Guarino hit on a gold mine of ideas when he partnered with Chicago musician-artist Jon Langford to create this show ... There also is hilarity that sometimes sits uncomfortably alongside a palpable sadness ... “All the Fame of Lofty Deeds” works pretty darn well. It’s a show for anyone who loves good music, good art and good storytelling.”
- Mary Houlihan, Chicago Sun-Times

ALL THE FAME OF LOFTY DEEDS is a theatrical exploration of a discarded America expressed in country and western music from the early to mid century. Inspired by the images, music and lyrics of Welsh-born musician and painter Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers), the play follows the story of Lofty Deeds, a former country star of the Grand Ole Opry era now struggling to re-engage a past that led to his unfortunate present. He is a forgotten footnote of his times in a cultural slagheap that is a shadow of his glory years. The play seamlessly rotates between the past and present, following Lofty’s attempts to patch back together his life story from fragments far and wide. Not a biography, the play instead is the story of the disintegration of a time when regionalism organically fed a culture instead of the cynical market drivers that control it today.

Full-length with music.
Versatile cast of about four men, at least two women.

Opportunities for doubling.

“The prose is rich and strange (it reminds me of David Milch’s work for HBO). And whenever you think you’ve got the play figured out, it wriggles deftly out of your grasp and into the realm of dead parents, late-night radio confessions and other detritus of a lonely Chicago night. But the play also is never pretentiously oblique. You feel you recognize the characters. You invest.” – Chicago Tribune

“ … A richly theatrical, hour-long meditation on the impermanence of love, the anxiety of intimacy, the distortions of insomnia, the prevalence of alienation, the legacy of parents, the terror of risk-taking and the mysteries of the mind in the wee small hours of the morning … beautifully written, shot through with pain and comedy.” – Chicago Sun-Times

Set in the dead of night in a Chicago garden apartment, a young couple starts a date that never ends. Changing seasons, dead parents, late night talk radio and professional insecurity cage them in limbo until morning finally arrives, determining their future.

A full-length play in one act.
Twenty-something female, two males. Fifty-something male-female couple.
One voiceover, female.
Minimal set.

download an excerpt (pdf)

KING COMA is a three-act play examining the themes of identity, personal responsibility and the power of language through heightened theatricality and magic realism. The central character is Louis Lombardo, a real estate developer who hits the skids, forced to relocate his family to the desolate town of Core, Illinois. While there, he uses his skills for language to convince the entire town that they are actually living in a Camelot-like land where “every man is king.” As the townspeople convince themselves they are not living in a grey factory town, but indeed a colorful medieval fantasyland where individual frailties are not faults but assets, the play transforms into a magical realm. What prevents Lombardo and the town from fully vanishing into escapism is Wendy, Lombardo’s daughter who is in a coma and saddled in a wheelchair and who, over time, becomes a religious shrine to the townspeople. Two actors play this character — one in a wheelchair, and another who floats above the action, both serving as the conscience of the entire play. It is Lombardo’s relationship with his daughter — the truth behind her ailment — that makes his pursuit of pure escapism fall apart, delivering the final blows of the play. Faced with reality, the town reverses back to its original state, with all involved having to once again contend with the harsh realities of living life.

In three acts.
Five men, three women, one young boy, a teenage girl and a teenage boy, townspeople, one very rude puppet.
Many opportunities for doubling.

download an excerpt (pdf)

THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES is a dark comedy about the price paid for artistic inspiration and the realities of faded glory. Paul, a middle age bassist and songwriter, finds that as he approaches middle age, is dealing with the realities of being a one-hit wonder. With his band broken up and his songwriting partner in L.A., he is alone in trying to make sense of how to regain his dream and to collect some much needed royalties to boot. In comes Morris, his father-in-law, a retired accountant. Morris is looking for Evie, his daughter, a horse jumper. In their frenetic interaction, Morris learns that Evie hasn’t died, she’s been transformed into an otherworldly creature. Evie has been a sort of muse to both men and in chasing her, they encounter hard truths about the limitations of love.  Cutting into this discovery is Tracy, a teenager who learns from Paul how outcasts can be redeemed through pop music glory.

In two acts.
One man, about 40, one man, about 60, one teenage girl.
One set.

download an excerpt (pdf)

Claire and Billy are dealing with a childhood marred by emotionally distant parents. Clare is a bank teller who has two children by her husband Dag. Billy is a truck driver, his body scarred by a childhood accident in which he set himself on fire in a drug-fueled haze. It is the evening of the Fourth of July and Billy is visiting Clare and Dag, hoping to introduce them to Bobbie, a blind woman he plans to marry. A flood has just ravaged their town days earlier, leaving a thin but visible scum line on all the walls. As the couples wait for the fireworks outside, their children go missing, forcing Clare and Billy to confront a stunted childhood, leaving Clare to decide whether to escape with a man, the town outcast, waiting for her outside in his car. ALL DOGS MUST HEEL is ultimately about what constitutes a family and whether the cycle of being unloved can ever be broken.

A one act full-length in real time.
One couple, a male and female, both in their late thirties, early forties.
One set.

download an excerpt (pdf)

FROM HUTCHINSON STREET is about Roberta, a grocery clerk in her early forties who has lived in her family's Chicago two-flat her entire life. She lives with her young daughter Katie and above them lives Jason, who she has known since childhood. Jason is Katie's father, a fact Roberta keeps hidden from her due to the fact Jason is a junkie continually on the mend. Roberta's roommate is Wilson, a 60-ish drifter. All of the characters are haunted by individual memories the building has stored away for them in some way and, though many interweaving memory scenes, the house itself becomes the play's most looming character. When Roberta is presented with an opportunity to sell the house due to neighborhood gentrification, her dream of moving to California suddenly becomes possible. But the decision forces the household to confront aspects of their relationships they've long buried.

In two acts.
One woman and one man, both around age 40.
One man near age 60. One young girl. One couple, a male and female, in their thirties or late twenties.
One set.

download an excerpt (pdf)

“Playwright Mark Guarino has constructed these scenarios in order to create a wonderfully skewed backdrop for what is essentially a debate about the role of art in a society deadened by banality …. What Guarino has had the good sense to do is pepper his obvious dissatisfaction with the modern world with great chunks of humor and much-needed compassion.” – Windy City Times

WE HATE THE WORLD! is a black comedy about finding your own voice– literally and figuratively– In a world that finds such behavior trouble.  Emily, a college poet drops of out school and returns home to discover that her mother has sold Emily and her childhood home to Mama, a frantic phone sex peddler who desperately wants to be a mother.  Because the "real world" has no need for a poet, Emily is forced to work writing greeting card slogans for a charlatan and his company mascot, Bartholomew Bear, a naive soul who, after years at the company, is conditioned to believe he really is a bear.  Meanwhile, Mama's son Mel, an anarchist-on-the-run who has long-since traded his artistic ideals in for becoming a renegade graffiti artist, propels Emily to escape to her own vision of harmonious life—Wyoming.  When a trip reveals that Wyoming is anything but idyllic, she returns home determined to prove that a world of poetic ideals can exist anywhere—only if one is confident enough in their own voice to re-invent the world, making their ideals reality.

In two acts.
One woman and one man, forties. One woman and three men, early twenties. One offstage voice. One set.

download an excerpt (pdf)

MOZART BORN takes place in its entirety in a second floor bedroom of a working class bungalow in Chicago. Gloria has arrived there with her cousin Mike to steal something out of Denice’s bedroom. Gloria has been robbed by Denice's brother Ed and wants to retaliate. Denice later learns that Mike and Gloria were once childhood musical prodigies who have given up their talents because they were not practical in the "real world." Mike is now resigned to his role as a thief who steals from churches, Gloria is a clerk.  Likewise, Denice has returned from a future in a convent because she insisted the spectacular visions she experienced were Martians. These visions are manifested onstage by wild flora, which gradually engulf the stage, transforming it into a garden. Over time, Mike and Gloria see this other world, too. Although the visions spark memories of their youth when they were at their greatest potential, Denice still struggles to convince herself that the visions are real. When Gloria learns that Mike teamed with Ed, she escapes. Her return by the play’s end transforms all three characters.

Two acts.
One woman, late forties. One woman and one man, twenties. One offstage voice.
One set.

download an excerpt (pdf)