October 4, 1999
Side Man, Warren Leight's Tony Award-winning play, recently opened at A Contemporary Theatre. This impressively acted and sharply staged production documents the destruction of a family due to the father's obsessive love of his music.
The play deftly moves back and forth in time from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s, as Clifford (Drew Ebersole), the son, recollects scenes from his parents' first meeting to their eventual separation. The longsuffering marriage of his volatile, needy mother, Terry (Marianne Owen), to his self-absorbed and talented father, Gene (John Procaccino), is explored while creating a portrait of a dysfunctional family. The family crumbles in stages as the scene shifts from Manhattan nightclubs to musicians' hangouts to the apartment.
Procaccino portrays Gene as a man in a world of his own, existing solely to play his music. He is never fully in the present and is often shown gazing off into space or listening with total absorption to an amazing trumpet solo by one of the jazz greats. Procaccino gives his role the necessary amount of credibility and sensitivity, which allows the audience to understand how Gene is able to shirk his responsibilities as husband and father.
Owen is compelling in her portrayal of Terry and does not falter in giving her the wide range of emotions she requires as first a naive and bubbly young woman to the bitter, paranoid alcoholic she eventually becomes over time.
Ebersole, as Clifford, is the chronicler of the story and he suits the demands of his role well. The audience sees a child who never has the opportunity for a childhood, living with two self-obsessed parents who can't take care of him or themselves. He conveys the struggles of feeling both pride and pain for his gifted father and shows infinite patience with his mother.
The interesting wrap-around setting covers the entire perimeter of the theatre with Manhattan building fronts in neon lights and artifacts, reminiscent of one's youth.
Side Man runs through Oct. 17. For ticket information, call 206-292-7676.