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A Triumph of Artistry

'Side Man' arrives at 1st Stage.

From left: Sun King Davis, Kevin Hasser, Patrick Bussink (center in striped sweater), Maboud Ebrahimszadeh and Chris Mancusi in the 1st Stage production of ‘Side Man.’

From left: Sun King Davis, Kevin Hasser, Patrick Bussink (center in striped sweater), Maboud Ebrahimszadeh and Chris Mancusi in the 1st Stage production of ‘Side Man.’ Photo courtesy of 1st Stage

Director Michael Dove has created an unflinching, poignant look into deep corners of lives unraveling. His production of "Side Man" is a strong play for adults who want to be fully transported by awe for what creative talent can accomplish.

"Side Man" is a memento tracing the lives of jazz musicians and their families in the decades after the Korean War. These were the peaks and valley years of jazz and big bands. The play focuses on how a singular passion takes its toll on lives.

The play was written by Warren Leight. It was awarded a 1999 Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Dove, also the Artistic Director for the multi-Helen Hayes Award nominated Forum Theatre, assembled an exceptional technical design team that adds their own notes of understated allure to the production and its written script.

Steven Royal's imaginative set design gives off a dusky mood. It begins in shadows with color drained out. Over various scenes, the set is fluidly transformed as furniture and props are lugged in by the actors piece by piece. The lighting design by Stephanie P. Freed captures faces intimately by shining little halos of slim light. Sound designer Thomas Sowers has found period jazz music that matches the dialogue to underpin emotions.

A terrific acting ensemble works together with a velvet touch; as smooth as the jazz music that wafts through the production.

Where and When

"Side Man" performed at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road in McLean,. Performances through April 22, 2012. Fridays 8 p.m., Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Tickets: $15-$25. Call 703-854-1856 or visit www.1stStageTysons.org. Note: Adult language and situations

The centerpiece of the evening is Lee Mikeska Gardner as wife and mother to a musician at the height of his skills. We follow her initial naiveté through a journey into alcoholism and breakdowns. She has the ability to move through deadpan comedy to erratic emotions and heartbreak that is exceptional.

Patrick Bussink is the son. He narrates the unfolding life stories and then smoothly moves into his character who constantly asks "why was I born." Chris Mancusi is the trumpet player who marries, but without a clue. We watch as he connects only with his horn. He is a man in love with music to the detriment of all others. Not so much a bad man, just unavailable.

The ensemble includes three musician buddies and a woman who gets her kicks by being close to the action. Maboud Ebrahimzadeh is one of the buddies; he is a very distinctive actor by imbuing his character with real life albeit one full of pain.