Working the boards |

Working the boards

Wren Wertin
Special to the DailySteppenwolf Theatre Company's "Side Man" finishes up its three-day run today at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek.

No amount of free concerts or movies can replace an honest performance on the boards. Steppenwolf’s reputation for excellence in acting isn’t just hype. If Thursday’s performance is anything to go by, they got that reputation the old fashioned way: They earned it.

“Side Man” is a drama about a family. Narrated by Clifford (Josh Stamberg), the story shifts back and forth between the present and the past. Stamberg adopts boyish characteristics as his 10-year-old self, and an aged weariness when he’s older. Sifting through his and his parents’ lives, he was the crusher of dreams by simply being born. Or so he’s told, again and again.

Rondi Reed plays his mother, Terry. A little nuts but full of spark as a young woman, she evolves into a bitter, crazy old bat. Her husband Gene (Rick Snyder) is fluent with his trumpet; he achieves an inner glow when he’s steeped in the music. It’s the siren song that seduces, then repels, Terry.

Never has a more dysfunctional family existed – the caretaking son, uncommunicative father, bitter mother. Throw in Gene’s music-making buddies Ziggy (Jim Saltouros), Al (Christian Stolte) and Jonesy (Jason Wells), and Patsy (Natalie West), the eternal waitress with an unhealthy, endearing affection for musicians, and you’ve got a real crew of characters, just trying to live their lives in a way that makes sense. Wells’ strung-out Jonesy, living in the ugliness of addiction, manages to seem the innocent of the bunch, God bless the fool.

Despite the heaviness of the material, the amply sprinkled comic relief diffuses the despair, making the performance speed by. The set, full of radiator-turned-tables and flanked on one side by a wall of stacked and jumbled chairs, (“representing the clutter of their lives,” said Steppenwolf General Manager Claude Bender) delivers a bit of the club magic. Despite the open feel, the stage feels full, overrun by the characters’ personalities.

I forced myself to go to the show. Worn out from working and playing, all I wanted was to go home and sit on my deck. As soon as the show began with the first strains of “Cry Me a River” I forgot about being tired and was riveted by the action and the players. Both major Denver newspapers had critics in the crowd, as Steppenwolf doesn’t often leave Chicago, and has no plans to be any closer to Denver than they are now in Beaver Creek.

Truly a treat for a little mountain town, “Side Man” is worth the effort of going. Today marks their last performance at 7:30 p.m. For more information contact the Vilar Center Box Office at 845-TIXS.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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