Burning Brass

The story of jazz and its men sounds right

As Terry, Delgado captures an interesting moment in history for women -- the late '50s and early '60s was a time when women were neither independent nor submissive. In her younger years, Terry is the type of Catholic girl from a working-class family who can say motherfucker five times in one sentence and still bowl you over with her almost stupid naiveté. Delgado is no stranger to strong female roles, as we have seen in her outstanding portrayals of painter Frida Kahlo and fashion diva Diana Vreeland. She is a master of throaty, gravelly, whiskey-laden rage, but in Side Man some of her rage seems uncontrolled. She goes from being in love and eternally hopeful to old and bitter almost without a transition. Because the play traces three decades, more gradation in the characters of Terry and Gene would have given more emotional depth to the play overall, although together they are great. Their glaringly different personalities and temperaments make Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus look like a case study of June and Ward Cleaver.

While at times quite humorous and convincing as has-beens, Gene's fellow jazzmen -- Al, Ziggy, and Jonesy, (played by John Trapani, Kevin Reilly, and George Schiavone respectively) -- sometimes miss their marks. They talk the talk and walk the walk, but something falls flat about them, which shows in the scene when they get hold of a bootleg tape of a great jazz solo and are huddled around listening to it. They snap their fingers, punch each other in the arm, and make comments: basically a clichéd reaction. An audience wants to see something different from what he or she would expect, something that feels more authentic and gives us insight. There are other moments, though -- for example when Jonesy the junkie is in jail -- that do succeed.

Side by side by sidemen: Oscar Isaac (left) and Mark Shannon
Side by side by sidemen: Oscar Isaac (left) and Mark Shannon
Through July 16 at GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, 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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