Chicago is known for music. Over the decades, the focus has shifted from blues and jazz to rock. In our front yard, we showcase some of the Nation’s biggest bands at Lollapalooza. In our backyard, we feature the stylings of independent bands at Pitchfork. And at street festivals across town, we introduce the new sounds of up and coming groups. What do all these musicians have in common? They want to *make it*! But what if they already have? Ka-Tet Theatre Company presents the 1999 Tony Award winning play, SIDE MAN. Playwright Warren Leight penned a memory play inspired by his father. The adult child of a trumpet player and alcoholic narrates the deconstruction of his parents’ marriage. The ‘side man’ is a freelance musician employed on an as-needed-basis. Gene and his brass pals go from gig to gig. In between, they survive on unemployment. ‘They didn’t play for fame or money but for each other.” Jazz musicians, post WWII and pre Vietnam, battle the odds to be in the band. Because music is their first love, their wives and kids become civilian casualties. SIDE MAN is a behind-the-music episode before sex, drugs and rock & roll made band life more glamourous!
I was touched by the honesty of the production. Suzanne Miller (Terry) asks one of her husband’s buddies, ‘do you really think he can make it?‘ The simple response of ‘he has!‘ prompts a genuine look of stunned horror on Miller’s face. This pivotal point catapults Miller from naive to shrew to crazy. Jeremy Clark (Gene), her hubby aka the side man, plays it even-keeled. Clark’s non-reaction to his wife and kid is pitch perfect. Dan Meisner (Clifford) narrates with grown-up resignation. Meisner’s matter-of-fact oration coupled with Clark’s stone-faced delivery punctuates Miller’s emotional intensity. It’s a poignant combo. Under the direction of Richard Stockton Rand, the entire ensemble comes together in jocular unity. Rich Logan (Jonesy) is a stand-out as a devastating junkie. In the background, scenic and lighting designers Tracy Otwell and Karen M. Thompson use a shadowbox setup. Colorful cityscapes illuminate locale. Silhouettes of musicians provide a profound illusion of a moment in-the-spotlight.
For a show about music, I had trouble hearing! Originally, I sat center-aisle-right-side. When the show started, the air conditioner behind me became more than white noise. I shifted several seats left. The A/C was still a factor. Between that and the background jazz music, I missed some of the dialogue. A few actors were too soft-spoken! Microphones would probably help. Sound aside, SIDE MAN captivated me for its compelling story. It makes me continue to wonder what the true definition of ‘making it‘ is!
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes
At City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr
Written by Warren Leight
Directed by Richard Stockton Rand
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Thru August 20th