A sense of humor helps most of us get through difficult times. And that must be especially true for stand-up comics who face daunting family issues.
Such is the case for Clevelander Marc Jaffe, an early writer for the Seinfeld show and husband of Karen, a physician afflicted with early-onset Parkinson’s disease. His largely autobiographical play, co-authored by another Clevelander, Eric Coble, in on tour with a weekend stop at Dobama Theatre.
Side Effects May Include… has its sights set on showing how a devastating condition such as Parkinson’s, which is progressive and incurable, has many far-reaching impacts on the person with the disease and many others around her.
From this standpoint, this one-person play works well, as the script touches on various aspects of life as it swirls around the every-changing eddies of the relationship between Phil and Maggie.
And there are some genuinely funny moments. After listening to a long list of the possible side effects from a primary Parkinson’s medication—from skin rash to sudden death—the announcer then cheerily suggests: “Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you.” We’ve heard that line a million times and never realized how idiotic it sounded.
However, those moments of laughter and clarity are bookended by less successful elements. The opening 20 minutes moves slowly as Phil, a stand-up comedian, muses about his moribund sex life. And the second act is almost totally devoted to analyzing just one pharmaceutical side effect, Maggie’s increased libido.
We watch Phil try to deal with this happy accident, eventually taking hard-on pills to keep up with his increasingly horny wife and then dealing with the dicey results. There are some chuckles here, but the connection to Parkinson’s fades away until a late interaction with Phil and Maggie’s young daughter brings us back.
Solo performer Andrew J. Pond, under the direction of Wayne Mell, handles a variety of smaller characters with a sure hand and well-differentiated character voices. But as Phil he curiously seems less than fully present, which softens the impact of some of the humorous asides. Indeed, when part of the set fell apart by accident during one of Phil and Maggie’s romps in bed, Pond sparked to life with witty ad libs that had a fresher delivery than many of his scripted takes.
Jaffe and Coble are definitely on to something here, in a play that first appeared at Cleveland Public Theatre in their annual Big Box play development series. In particular, some of the most touching and wryly funny moments happen in the last half of the first act, when Phil and Maggie are just starting to deal with the disease.
That’s where this play stakes out new ground, and one wishes there were much more of that material and fewer limp (ha) penis jokes.
Side Effects May Include…
Through Sunday, March 24, produced by Madkap Productions at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Tickets can be purchased at: www.madkapproductions.com or www.brownpapertickets.com