note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Chuck Galle
Side Man, by Warren Leight, opened Friday night, May 4, at Players' Ring, Portsmouth NH. Side Man is a story of jazz, art, devotion to art, human frailty and strength, served up with neither judgment nor glamour, but with a helpful helping of humor. Basically this is a hard story to take; a completely self indulgent trumpeter; an unusual talent for even the jazz world where talent abounds, meets and beds a naive young woman. His buddies, fellow artists in brass, are the standard bunch; a junkie named "Jonesy", a polygamous Lothario named Al, and a slush mouth called Ziggy. They are all devoted to jazz music, and represent to many of us the standard by which non classical musicians are stereotyped these days, the forerunners of the Dead, Mick Jagger, Sting, etc. Some of us know some jazz musicians who donšt smoke dope - or shoot it or snort it for that matter - and they teach at premier universities, donšt tour a lot, pay their bills, father their children. But what we hear about are the junkies, dead-beats, glamour pusses, and deviants who have managed also to create exciting, vibrant, soul stirring and incredibly complex contributions to Americašs almost native art. For the characters in this play (and the real ones they represent) the redeeming feature of their lives is not so much the artistic contribution, but the devotion, love, good spirit, human humor with which they neglected everything but their art. Gene Glimmer is not a likable, charming fellow, and yet we find ourselves sort of attracted to him. Nothing gets him down. Some one always wants to have him in the ensemble because he can get to the gig on time, read the charts, harmonize, comp, solo, and not bring the fuzz to the job. But he never learns to love his family, never earns his son's respect - love yes, never gives his wife respect, never makes us glad he blows his trumpet so damn well. We get to see so much of his dreary off stage life it's just amazing how it is the memory of his on stage life that towers. And it is just this strange magnetism Author Leight has caught that makes this play enjoyable to watch. Leight touches too lightly on another aspect of any musicianšs life that occupies large amounts his or her time: practice. We briefly hear that Gene practices at hours unacceptable in the hotel he and his family live their lives out in, but real live musicians practice many hours a day no matter how often they have a paying gig.
Jason Roberts, in a tough, moving, understated performance as the jazz-man's son Clifford, makes us understand one thing fully; a complete human being can be raised out of a home where love of something so predominates. His sire, Gene, never fathers. His mother, Terry, played exuberantly by Sarah Bailey, seldom mothers; shešs busy escaping from the raging unhappiness of facing the reality of her life with Gene. These two performances alone are worth the price of a ticket. Brian Peters does a stand up job of Gene, presenting the callousness and drive of the musician, but fails to show us his vulnerable side; his fears, his self doubts. Brian is a fine actor who needs to broaden his experience with directors who will help him drop his personal facade. Matt Lamstein gives us a very believable Jonesy, accepting his addiction matter of factly, as a junkie is likely to do. Michael Zimmer continually surprises us with his slushed esses, how does he hit it just right each time? Mickey Blanchette and Kimberly J. Forbes complete the ensemble with solid, enjoyable performances. Director Paul Shoop is to be highly credited for this production. His choice of solo pieces to supplement those called for in the script shows his love of good jazz music, and the breadth of his ear.
The sense of ensemble, the pace, the ebb and flow of emotion sparkle. The set and lighting are absolutely sufficient, and his use of one corner of audience to be the booth at Charlie's Melody Lounge is bold and creative, but better yet, it works. We may have to crane a bit to see it, but what else would you do in Charlie's to see local celebs downing a few? Barbara Newton has outfitted the cast in appropriate attire so that you know these guys are jazz-men, jazz-men of the Beatnick, post-Beatnik era where a little flare went a long way. A fine show. Go see it.
Side Man plays at the Players' Ring, 105 Marcy St.,. Portsmouth NH, 03801 (www.playersring.org) Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 7PM through 20 May. Call 603-436- for reservations. Tickets $9, seniors, students, $7.