In the basement bar of a theater in SoHo, Manhattan, on the third Saturday this September, sits an audience of 20. Or just about that many. In the dim purple glow of kitschy wall sconces and dying track lights, they sip vodka tonics and beer.
On stage, there is a woman. The stage is small but slightly elevated, so the woman is just about a foot from the first row of tables. She sits on a stool with a guitar in her lap. She is barefooted and slight beneath the long navy folds of her dress.
She is tuning and taking her time doing so. The audience waits, quiet and patient, lulled to murmurs by her presence alone. The woman looks down at her guitar and laughs softly to herself. It’s a distant act, as if suspended between two worlds. She is conscious of the audience before her and yet her smile hints of something else, like she knows something the audience does not. Something private. A universe that transcends the room around her, one just for her and her finely—tuned guitar.
Then, leaning back into the light, she strikes a chord and begins to sing. It’s heavenly. Her song rings clear and strong, but warm, and it’s as if a haze of sonic yellow has settled over the room. It is beautiful. In another time, you might be convinced the woman before you was Joni Mitchell.
In fact, it is Rainee Blake.
In her one woman show, Take Me As I Am, Blake transforms into the iconic singer—songwriter Joni Mitchell, delivering her audience to 1976 California in an imagined version of Mitchell’s first show back after a solo cross country roadtrip taken earlier that year. The first of many cheeky quips, Blake daringly addresses the crowd of New Yorkers: “Boy, it sure is nice to be back in California.”
But any qualms her East Coast audience may have had are quickly laid to rest as soon as Blake begins to sing again. For a show of just over an hour, the audience sits, mesmerized before her image of their beloved songbird, entranced by the casual toss of her long blonde hair—dyed specifically for the tour—and transported by the youthful fervor with which Blake sings of love and loss, person and place, blood “like holy wine,” kissing “sunsets pink,” and cacti.
The show pulls from across Mitchell’s extensive catalog, with a setlist spanning eight studio albums. Blake slides in and out of iconic melodies, from "California" to "Case of You," with variations at once both her own and reflective of intense study of the precise nuances of Mitchell’s voice.
Her monologues, effortlessly expressed as between–song–banter, provide insight into Mitchell’s life. She riffs on romance with Graham Nash and the party–hard lifestyle of being on tour with Bob Dylan, as well as the isolation of being sent away to recover from polio as a child. The show culminates with the vulnerable revelation of Mitchell’s past pregnancy, her decision to put her art before everything, and a stirring rendition of "Little Green," a song Mitchell wrote for the daughter she put up for adoption.
“It’s her giving up a lot of her personal life for her creative life that is really at the crux of the show. That’s what interested me, that toughness," Blake says. "With her there was always the desire, almost, to win the audience's approval, to confirm she made the right choices. That it was all worth it, even though she had to sacrifice so much.”
Blake wrote Take Me As I Am at age 23, eight years ago now. With the help of director Joanna Weinberg, she’s since then toured it on and off throughout the US and Australia. Now, at 31, she's been able to take on the role with a jaded maturity more closely mimicking that of Mitchell's
“Yeah, well, she's a classic avoidant attachment style queen, which I also happen to be. She’s gotta have independence, and that's what totally characterizes her work,” Blake explains.
At 13, Blake’s dad gave her a Joni Mitchell’s Greatest Hits vinyl with the message, “You’re ready for this now.” Since then, she has owed, in part, her very singular commitment to make a career out of her art—acting, writing, and music—to Mitchell’s example.
“I think as women, particularly, we are indoctrinated into being people pleasers and rushing and trying to make everybody happy and abandoning ourselves," Blake says. "But [Joni] doesn't do that. She leans back, you know, energetically. And she's not afraid to take up space.”
In the age of instant streaming and social media onslaught, where TikTok fame seems to be a prerequisite for making it in the music industry, taking one’s time, leaning “energetically back,” is a revolutionary act.
In watching Blake, it's clear that part of what makes her performance so enigmatic is her confidence to take things slowly, thoughtfully, and on her own time. Like she admires in Mitchell, Blake herself is alluring “standing there in a power of her own, just taking her time.”
Maybe Blake embodies Joni so well not because of her similarities—her high cheekbones or avoidant attachments—but because of her admiration and devotion to becoming what Mitchell was. freer, someone unafraid to take her time, to get the guitar tuned just right. To take ownership of her artistry in no uncertain terms, understanding well the sacrifices required to be a woman devoted to her art.
Blake approaches the role with a reverence beyond casual imitation. Her embodiment—though exact in her fluid exchanges between guitar and dulcimer, her gentle Canadian lilt, and infectious laugh (just like at the end of "Big Yellow Taxi")—goes beyond surface–level reproductions.
She does not copy Mitchell, but rather aims to harness her being, bringing not just her physicality or music to the audience, but a deep understanding of her ethos, of Joni’s artistry and personhood, of that transcendent glow of kindness, strength, and singular talent. This is what radiates behind the stage lights and sunny blonde halos of Blake and Mitchell both.
Rather than a tribute show, Take Me As I Am might be better sold as Joni Mitchell preemptively reincarnated. Especially as real–life Mitchell continues to recover from her 2015 brain aneurysm (and with her songs still unavailable on Spotify, thanks Joe Rogan), it's a special treat to witness the timeless likes of "Blue" and "Clouds" and "Ladies of the Canyon" come alive again.
“The process of embodying her has taught and helped me so much," Blake says. "To have this idol that you get to step into, with all these qualities that you desire to have within yourself? I mean, fuck yeah. What a gift that is.”