When I take my seat at the James Lee Community Center to see the Providence Players of Fairfax’s production of Side Man – I feel like I am sitting at Charlie’s Melody Lounge – especially when I look over to stage left. Set Designer Raedun Knutsen and Chip Gertzog have recreated an inviting bar and booth complete a vintage cigarette vending machine. Over on stage right, Clifford Glimmer (Ari Post) leans against the wall waiting to tell the story of his parents – jazz trumpeter Gene Glimmer (John Coscia) and his alcoholic wife Terry (Andra Whitt).
Christian D. Faulkner does a great job with the cast’s costumes. She has the musicians dressed in suits from the jazz musicians of the period. Patsy looks like a real waitress you would find at the Melody Lounge. Beth Harrison does a wonderful job with makeup and hair for Andra Whitt and Tina Hodge Thronson (Patsy).
Side Man is no musical. It’s brutally honest look at a live of a jazz side man from the 1950’s to the mid 1980s. And it’s RAW. There is drug use and one of the characters, Jonesy (Bobby Welsh) is a heroin addict, although his fellow musicians don’t consider him an addict because he shows up to his gigs. There is a love interest between waitress Patsy and Terry. Strong language and sometime vulgar stories are part of the drama. The musicians are all financially struggling and surviving on their unemployment checks more than paying gigs. It ain’t pretty but it’s powerful and blunt. Warren Leight’s Side Man is so well written, so it’s easy to see how it won a Tony Award for Best Play and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Director Jimmy Gertzog receives fine performance from his solid cast. Andra Whitt gives a multi-layered performance and is the star of this production, as she goes from the cute, naive, flutist who catches Gene’s attention – to the alcoholic, middle-aged housewife, as the bottle is not enough and her pain wears on her mental stability. She was so perfect in the role that you could feel her pain.
Ari Post is perfectly cast as Clifford providing great narratives, and he interacts beautifully with the rest of the cast. Tina Hodge Thronson provides a strong performance as the waitress Patsy – flirting with the guys and showing Terry the ropes.
Craig Geoffrion (Ziggy) and David James (Al) add solid performances as Gene’s fellow musicians, and Bobby Welsh (Jonesy) turns in a memorable performance as the addicted musician. His prison scene is unforgettable.
The Providence Players can ‘toot their own horn’ with their beautifully acted production of Side Man.
Running Time: 2 hours and ten minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
Side Man plays through April 7, 2012 at The Providence Players of Fairfax at the James Lee Community Center – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, Virginia. For tickets call (703) 425-6782, or order them online.
Read Gertzog Debuts as Director with Providence Players’ ‘Side Man’ by Leslie Porster in Falls Church News Press (FCNP.com).