Burning Brass

The story of jazz and its men sounds right

As Terry, Delgado captures an intriguing moment in history for women; during the late Fifties and early Sixties, women seemed neither independent nor submissive. In her youth Terry is the sort of Catholic girl from a working-class family who can say “motherfucker” five times in one sentence and still bowl you over with her naiveté. Delgado, no stranger to strong female roles (we have seen her outstanding portrayals of painter Frida Kahlo and fashion diva Diana Vreeland), is a master of throaty, gravelly, whiskey-laden rage, but in Side Man some of her rage seems uncontrolled. She moves without transition from being in love and eternally hopeful to being old and bitter. Since the play traces over three decades, more gradation in the characters of Terry and Gene would have offered more emotional depth to the play, yet together they are great. Their glaringly dissimilar personalities make Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus look like a case study of June and Ward Cleaver.

While at times funny and convincing as has-beens, Gene's fellow jazzmen Al, Ziggy, and Jonesy, (played by John Trapini, Kevin Reilly, and George Schiavone) sometimes miss their mark. They talk the talk and walk the walk, but something falls flat. This is apparent in the scene where they get hold of a bootleg tape of a great jazz solo and huddle around listening to it. They snap their fingers, punch each other in the arm, and trade comments, basically, a clichéd reaction. An audience wants to see something more, something that feels more real. There are moments, though, that do succeed, for example when Jonesy the junkie finds himself in jail.

Side by side by side men: Oscar Isaac (left) and Mark Shannon
Side by side by side men: Oscar Isaac (left) and Mark Shannon

Details

Written by Warren Leight, directed by Joseph Adler, and starring Judith Delgado, Oscar Isaac, Ellen Rae Littman, Kevin Reilly, George Schiavone, Mark Shannon, and John Trapini.
Through July 16 at GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave, Coral Gables; 305-445-1119.

The world of Side Man is a world of extinct creatures, but the emotions are very alive. The generally solid and strong performances throughout, particularly by Isaac and toward the end by Shannon, combined with vintage set design, costuming, and fine recorded music, can trick you for a little while into thinking you're in a classic New York jazz joint, not in a theater.

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